AFC to expand Champions League, Women’s Asian Cup

Fabricio of Urawa Red Diamonds takes on Mix Diskerud of Ulsan Hyundai during the AFC Champions League Round of 16 (by Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images)

The Asian Football Confederation (AFC) has revealed expansion plans for the Champions League, its leading club competition, and the Women’s Asian Cup.

The plans were detailed at an AFC Executive Committee meeting, with the Champions League to expand from 32 to 40 clubs from the 2021 season.

This will be made possible through the addition of an extra group of four clubs in both the Champions League’s East and West zones. The AFC said the expansion will take place without any change to the existing slots awarded to its top six member associations.

Meanwhile, national team tournament the Women’s Asian Cup will grow from eight to 12 teams for its next edition in 2022. The 2018 Women’s Asian Cup was hosted by Jordan, with the AFC stating that it currently has proposals for the 2022 hosting rights from Chinese Taipei, India and Uzbekistan.

Speaking at the ExCo meeting, AFC vice-president and Fifa Council member, Saoud al-Mohannadi, said: “As you know we have always looked to grow the women’s game in Asia with new initiatives and that has been rewarded by world champions in Fifa competitions at every level.

“We were the first Confederation to have at least five women ExCo members and one of the few to appoint a woman referee to men’s competitions in the AFC Cup. And one of our executive members, Kanya Keomany, will be the first female match commissioner to be appointed for a men’s club competition final – the AFC Cup final at the start of next month.

“The start of the new commercial cycle, with our exclusive partners, DDMC Fortis, is the perfect time to launch this new era in Asian football. It will be an era of excellence and inclusiveness.”

In other news, the ExCo has rubber-stamped the roadmap for Indian football that makes the Indian Super League (ISL) the country’s top-tier club competition. First revealed earlier this month, the roadmap for the reform process is for the club game in the country, with the ISL being recognised as the top league in India starting from the current 2019-20 season.

Following the AFC ExCo decision, the roadmap includes provisions that the ISL champion will represent India in the Champions League play-offs, and the I-League winner will get to play in the AFC Cup play-off.

Another key recommendation by the AFC is to open a pathway for two I-League clubs’ entry into the ISL by the end of the 2020-21 season, subject to certain criteria being fulfilled. In addition, starting with the 2022-23 and 2023-2024 season, the winner of the I-League will stand a chance to be promoted to the ISL based on sporting merit alone. However, there will be no relegation in the ISL at this time.

In its recommendation for the 2024-25 season, it is agreed to fully implement promotion and relegation into the top league, abolishing the concept of two parallel leagues.