KUALA LUMPUR: Asian football is heading for a fraught diplomatic stand-off if clubs from Qatar are drawn to face opponents from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates in the AFC Champions League writes KEIR RADNEDGE.
Qatar, host to the 2022 World Cup, is under diplomatic, trade and political pressure from a Saudi and UAE-led coalition over a variety of sensitive issues.
However the AFC, under its Bahraini president Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa, has insisted that Champions League matches involving clubs from Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates “should be played on a home and away basis in 2018 as per the AFC Regulations.”
This ruling follows an initial such order from the AFC executive committee in November, made at a time when the governing body hoped a political resolution could be accomplished.
It was not, hence an AFC delegation’s visit “to explain the decision” to the three neighbouring states earlier this month. The delegation was led by senior vice-president Praful Patel (India) accompanied by exco members Mariano Araneta Junior (Philippines) and Tran Quoc Tuan (Vietnam).
In the meantime the AFC also sought an assessment on “the safety and security of the countries involved.”
It appears highly unlikely that Saudi and/or UAE politicians would allow their clubs to play in Qatar. They would thus be forced to forfeit the match and/or tie.
Last year the AFC spent months seeking a diplomatic resolution to a dispute over the venue for the AFC Cup qualifier between Malaysia and North Korea during political tensions. Time was on the AFC’s side. This would not be the case in the AFC’s elite club competition.