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Asean Club Championship to launch after getting AFC and Fifa backing

Fifa president Gianni Infantino and AFF officials attend the 2019 Thai FA Cup final. (Image credit: Asean Football Federation)

A new Asean Club Championship football tournament is to launch in 2020 after being endorsed by the Asian Football Confederation and Fifa.

As reported exclusively by SportBusiness last month, the championship is being run by the Asean Football Federation and was proposed by sports business entrepreneur Seamus O’Brien, who is understood to be taking charge of the commercial rights.

The competition will be contested by 12 league or cup champions from AFF member federations. The Straits Times reports that, although a member of the AFF, Australian clubs will not take part, so the competing clubs will come from Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Timor-Leste and Vietnam. The newspaper reports that the likely competition structure features two groups of six teams playing each other home and away, with the top two in each group advancing to semi-finals, followed by a final.

The Straits Times also reports that commercial partners for the tournament have already been secured, and prize money of more than $1m is promised. Each team will receive a participation fee from the earliest rounds, and prize money will escalate as they progress through the tournament.

The winners of the competition could potentially qualify for place in the newly-expanded Fifa Club World Cup, the AFF said in the press release announcing its new tournament.

The AFF says the introduction of the ACC (Asean Club Championship) will help raise the standard of Southeast Asian national teams and enhance the profiles of the clubs and leagues in the region. AFF president Major General Khiev Sameth said: “The ACC will also help clubs improve their financial standing, promote sports tourism and enhance the football experience of the 650 million football supporters in our region.”

Support from the AFC for the tournament was critical for the project. A previous incarnation, that ran in 2003 and 2005, was shut down after opposition from the AFC due to fixture congestion. In the press release announcing the deal, Maj. Gen. Khiev Sameth, of Cambodia, said: “We took time to put this integrated and holistic plan together as there were numerous factors to consider, including ensuring no conflict in scheduling with the domestic leagues, Fifa and AFC fixtures including that of the expanded ACL [AFC Champions League]. We also had to look into other crucial matters like branding, prize money and format of competition. Then, there were the negotiations with the various commercial partners over the past months before securing the approval of the AFF Council…

“The ACC plan was finally discussed again at the AFF Special Council Meeting which met in Ho Chi Minh last week, specifically to deliberate and approve the details of the ACC and the Master Rights Agreement. I am pleased to share that the ACC was unanimously approved by all the Member Associations that were present at the AFF Special Council Meeting.”

The AFF said it discussed the proposal for the tournament with AFC president Shaikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa in Tajikstan in September, then with Fifa president Gianni Infantino in Vientiane, Laos last month and again in Bangkok last week. Maj. Gen. Sameth said: “We shared our plans for the club championship with president Infantino and His Excellency Shaikh Salman and they were both supportive. We are deeply grateful to have the full support from Fifa and AFC.”

Infantino was present in Bangkok when the AFF last week signed an MoU with the Asean political organisation to develop football-related social responsibility projects in the region.

The AFF said further details of the ACC would be revealed at a later date.