The Asian Football Confederation has elected to maintain the current home and away format for its Champions League club competition amid the ongoing diplomatic crisis in the Gulf region, but will change the process by which it will assign its next set of commercial rights.
Both issues were on the agenda at an AFC Executive Committee meeting held in Bangkok today (Tuesday). The diplomatic crisis in the Gulf had its first major impact on football earlier this month when Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain withdrew from the Gulf Cup of Nations amid their diplomatic dispute with host country, Qatar.
In June, the three countries ended diplomatic, trade and travel ties with Qatar, accusing it of sponsoring hardline Islamist groups. Qatar has denied such allegations. Qatar, host of the 2022 Fifa World Cup, is due to stage the Gulf Cup from December 22 to January 8. The four teams currently confirmed for the tournament are the host nation, Iraq, Oman and Yemen.
The AFC ExCo today said it had decided to maintain the normal home and away format and to follow the competition regulations in the 2018 Champions League for matches between clubs from Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Qatar.
The AFC agreed that all concerned Member Associations (MAs) should discuss with their respective governments to seek special permission for football teams/clubs to travel. The AFC also backed the decision of the AFC Competitions Committee to send a “high-level delegation” to the concerned countries to try and mediate the situation with the concerned MAs and governments to find a solution for the matches.
It was also decided that the AFC will invite tenders for its commercial rights from 2021 onwards, with the exception of the Middle East, by February 2018. The AFC said the original timeline for the tender process has been rescheduled because of the “challenges presented” by the current political situation in the Gulf.
The AFC ExCo will consider the awarding of the rights contracts at its meeting to be held in May or June 2018. AFC president Shaikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa said: “The AFC will ensure that transparent and fair procedures are followed and that the views of the Member Associations are taken into consideration.”
In December 2016, the AFC voted to put its media and marketing rights beyond 2020 out to tender. In 2015 the Lagardère-owned World Sport Group agency agreed an extension with the AFC through to 2028, but the deal, which was negotiated directly with the agency and was not opened up to the wider market, was not ratified by the AFC Executive Committee.
WSG, which has now been absorbed into the Lagardère Sports family, currently distributes rights to AFC events under a deal based on a guarantee of $600m (€517.9m) over eight years, from 2013 to 2020.
In other news, the AFC said Uefa general secretary Theodore Theodoridis was invited to present to the ExCo on the proposed Global Nations League. It was reported earlier this month that European football’s governing body was leading talks to expand its Nations League tournament for national team friendly games.
Uefa is set to launch its new Nations League concept in September 2018, with the competition seen as a means of injecting greater context to the raft of friendly games played by national teams. The Nations League will feature promotion and relegation, with the 55 European national teams having been divided into four leagues in accordance with their rankings.
The AFC said it was agreed that there would be further discussion on the project.