AFC to hold emergency summit as coronavirus wreaks havoc

HONG KONG: The Asian Football Confederation will hold an emergency meeting next week to discuss contingency plans for holding World Cup and Olympic qualifiers, as well as the Asian Champions League as the coronavirus outbreak, wreaks havoc across the continent.

Six more matches in the Asian Champions League were confirmed postponed on Thursday by the region’s governing body, including five featuring clubs from Iran, while the confederation said they were assessing the potential impact on World Cup qualifying matches due to be played across Asia in late March.

The AFC also said they were looking at alternative venues for the women’s Olympic qualifying playoff between China and South Korea, which is scheduled to be played on March 6 and 11.

“These are unprecedented and challenging times, but the AFC is working tirelessly to monitor the situation, including the various travel restrictions while being in constant contact with our member associations, leagues and clubs,” said AFC general secretary Windsor John in a statement.

“We are grateful for the support we have received from all our stakeholders, including our commercial and broadcast partners and agencies, as we try to protect the safety and well-being of all our players, officials and spectators while also ensuring the integrity of the competitions.”

The Asian Champions League has already been severely affected by the outbreak, with all-but one game involving Chinese clubs postponed until April at an earlier meeting held in Kuala Lumpur.

On Thursday, the United Arab Emirates Football Association announced Shabab Al Ahli Dubai’s meeting with Shahr Khodro and Al Wahda’s clash with Esteghlal — both from Iran — would be postponed as Iran became the latest nation to be severely affected by the epidemic.

Games involving two other Iranian clubs — Persepolis’ encounter with Saudi Arabia’s Al Taawon and both of the meetings between Sepahan and Al Nassr, also from Saudi Arabia — have also been postponed, the AFC confirmed.

The announcement came a day after Thai football authorities confirmed Chiang Rai United’s meeting with FC Seoul, due to be held in South Korea next Tuesday, would also be postponed.

The AFC will convene two meetings to address the issue, with discussions focused on east Asia to be held on Monday and those centred on the situation in the west of the continent to take place on March 7 and 8.

Earlier in the week domestic league play in Japan was suspended until March 15 while the start to South Korea’s K-League season has also been delayed.

Chinese authorities had already postponed the start of the Chinese Super League indefinitely.