April 15 – The Asian Football Confederation (AFC), the first regional body to postpone its international club and national team calendar when the coronavirus hit, has pushed back its competitions scheduled for May and June into July earliest, remaining fully committed to finishing its seasons on time. But only after public health issues are prioritised.
Windsor John, the AFC’s general secretary, said he was confident both the AFC Champions League and AFC Cup could be completed this year. The AFC’s club championships follow a calendar year and are not scheduled to finish until November. With events like the Olympics cancelled, more calendar possibilities have opened up.
“We still have time,” John said, adding that new dates for the competitions may be known by the end of April.
National leagues across the AFC’s vast footprint are in different stages of planning a return to play. Games in Taiwan and Tajikstan are taking place behind closed doors, while other countries are planning to restart in June through to August/September.
For the AFC to resume its competitions the crucial factor will be the reopening of international travel and the restrictions that might entail.
The AFC, which has repeatedly commended its national associations and clubs for the responsibility shown, emphasised that it will only deliver matches when it is safe to do so.
In a statement the AFC said: “Following the continued preventive measures and travel restrictions put in place by several governments, the AFC has decided to postpone all matches and competitions scheduled to take place in May and June until further notice.
“The AFC has been closely monitoring the COVID-19 pandemic and had earlier postponed its matches in March and April after holding a series of emergency meetings in New Delhi, Doha, Dubai and Kuala Lumpur,” the statement continued.
“The AFC will also continue to engage and consult with the participating member associations in the AFC club competitions and will explore all possible options to complete the 2020 AFC Champions League and AFC Cup group stages.”
“As one of the first confederations in world football to undertake precautionary measures in light of the COVID-19 outbreak, the latest decision reinforces the AFC’s commitment to ensure the safety and wellbeing of players, participating teams, officials, fans and all stakeholders,” the statement added.
The Champions League 32-team group stages are about a third completed. Restarting in July would bring the added complication of stifling heat, particularly in West Asia
June qualifiers for the men’s 2022 World Cup and 2023 Asian Cup had already been postponed.
The AFC is determined for both tournaments to go ahead “for sporting reasons and to fulfil commercial obligations”, said John.
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