AFC continue to enhance appeal of competitions

sheikh salman
AFC President Sheikh Salman bin Ibrahim Al-Khalifa (Photos: AFC)
AMMAN — The Asian Football Confederation (AFC) has and will continue to support member associations throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, AFC President Sheikh Salman bin Ibrahim Al-Khalifa said.اضافة اعلان

In an exclusive interview, Al-Khalifa told Jordan News: “We have introduced several measures to assist our member associations since the start of the pandemic, placing the utmost importance on the safety and wellbeing of our players and stakeholders and the centralization of all competitions has played a pivotal role in achieving this aim.”

Al-Khalifa said that these measures include the “timely release of the development funds, pandemic effect mitigation advice, health advice, rescheduling of competitions and the establishment of numerous best practice guidelines to resume competitions safely,” adding that these steps were “well received” by member associations.

The confederation president also noted that as part of efforts to aid clubs during such financially challenging times, the confederation has covered their participation expenses throughout 2020 and 2021 tournaments.

Al-Khalifa pointed out that while the AFC has had to postpone and reschedule competitions, given travel and quarantine restrictions and protocols, the confederation still managed to strike a balance between the “competitive and commercial needs and the health, safety and wellbeing of all stakeholders.”

To that effect, Al-Khalifa explained that against difficult odds, the AFC still managed to hold the 2020 AFC Champions League (Eastern Region) without any cases have been recorded and that, thus far, the Western Region edition of the tournament continues without “major issues”.

“The safety of our teams, players, officials, broadcast partners and stakeholders will always remain the highest priority and we will not hesitate to make difficult decisions if necessary, but our commitment remains focused on completing our competitions in 2021,” Al-Khalifa said.

Al-Khalifa highlighted that the AFC Champions League and Cup championships have ushered Asian club-football into a “new era,” pointing out a recent move, which saw an expansion to the number of Champions League teams to 40 and the total competing member associations from 12 to 20, to make the competition more “inclusive”.

“The decision was taken to enable clubs from more MAs (member associations) to experience more intense top-class club competitions and providing more high-level development for players and coaches,” Al-Khalifa said.

He added: “This is in line with the expansion of the AFC Asian Cup UAE 2019 from 16 to 24 teams and when we saw the improvement in standards. While it is still early days in the competition, already we are witnessing the same positive effect in the AFC Champions League. Al-Wehdat from Jordan is a fine example of a club who is benefiting from this landmark expansion.”

“There is always room for improvement, and we are constantly looking for ways to further enhance the appeal of our competitions,” the AFC official said.

Al-Khalifa also spoke of plans to develop Asian women’s football, noting that it continues to grow as evidenced by the fact that Asian women’s teams hold five top-20 spots internationally.

“Most recently, we announced the introduction of the AFC Women’s Champions League in 2023, following the success of the AFC Women’s Club Championship — FIFA/AFC Pilot Tournament, which will continue for the next two years,” Al-Khalifa said.

He continued: “We are also committed to supporting our Member Associations in strengthening their domestic leagues and in January this year, the AFC Executive Committee approved the AFC Women’s Club Licensing criteria, and our hope is to create a similar game-changing impact as witnessed in the men’s game with the Men’s Club Licensing Regulations.” 

Al-Khalifa added: “The AFC Women’s Club Licensing, along with Competition Regulations for the Women’s Club Championship 2021 Pilot Tournament, will instill new levels of professionalism, which is essential for Clubs who want to compete in the AFC Women’s Champions League, and I am confident over time, will elevate the standards of the women’s game all across the Continent.”

Al-Khalifa lauded Qatar’s role as host of the upcoming 2022 World Cup and highlighted the confederation’s part in preparing for the event.

“The AFC is immensely proud of the fact that the FIFA World Cup will be hosted next year in Qatar. We are working closely with the Qatar Organizing Committee, the Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy, FIFA and our Qatari brothers and sisters to deliver a successful and the best World Cup of all time so far,” Al-Khalifa said.

The AFC president highlighted: “Qatar is more than ready and their success in organizing the world’s most prestigious football showpiece will be a success for the entire Asian continent and will send a message to the world about Asia’s passion and dedication towards the game. We are quite confident we will see a distinctly spectacular event.”

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