Nasser al-Khater, CEO of FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 has discussed the importance of the Qatar Football Association (QFA) stepping in to host the remaining matches of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Champions League in the West region, starting yesterday and concluding on October 3.
Top teams from across the AFC Western Zone will compete over 39 matches from the group stage through until the semi-final where the winner will meet their counterpart from the Eastern Zone to lay claim to Asia’s most prestigious club competition. The competition was suspended in March of this year as part of a global response to limit the spread of Covid-19.
Besides praising the return of continental football, al-Khater also discussed the stringent safety measures put in place by organizers to ensure the tournament was safe and secure for players and officials involved.
Commenting on the safety measures taken, al-Khater said: “From the very beginning, we have worked with the Qatar Football Association, the Qatar Stars League and the Asian Football Confederation to ensure that all possible safety precautions are taken so that the tournament is delivered safely for everyone involved. This includes putting in place a series of measures at every step of the user journey from arrival at Hamad International Airport to hotels, training sites and stadiums.
“The AFC Champions League is a prestigious tournament that we are honored to host. We are particularly thrilled to have been able to step in and help the AFC at this late stage of the tournament and play a role in facilitating the gradual, safe return of Asian football to stadiums – on behalf of football lovers around the world.”
One of the necessary safety measures has been the restriction of fans entering stadiums to watch the matches, with venue capacities strictly limited throughout the tournament due to Covid-19.
Al-Khater had a message about this decision to the football world: “While it is unfortunate that matches will not be open to fans, we believe in the power of football to bring people together – even if this means coming together digitally or through television screens.”
Three of the four stadiums to be used in the tournament are FIFA World Cup 2022 stadiums. Al Janoub, Education City, and Khalifa International Stadiums will all host matches during the tournament.
In particular, the 2020 AFC Champions League will mark the first international sporting event to be held in the 40,000-seat Education City Stadium, which hosted its first official game as part of the local QNB Stars League earlier this month.
Education City Stadium’s completion was announced digitally in June due to the pandemic. The digital launch of the stadium was dedicated to frontline workers battling Covid-19.
“The AFC Champions League will be yet another substantial event that Qatar will host as one of numerous test events, to maximize our preparedness well ahead of the FIFA World Cup in just over two years from now. Hosting the AFC will be an important test to ensure its readiness to host matches through to the quarter-final stages of the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022,” said al-Khater.
“We are particularly excited to showcase once again our innovative cooling technology that will guarantee a temperature of 18 to 24 degrees Celsius at a time when we still haven’t yet made it through the summer’s heat.”
In addition to the stadiums that will be used throughout the tournament, al-Khater also discussed other elements of the country’s hosting capabilities that will be on display as well: “The compact nature of the tournament means that all participating clubs will be able to stay in one accommodation throughout their stay in Qatar. This will reduce travel time and increase training time, leading to better football on the pitch due to the reduced impact of travel on player performance.
“Also, three FIFA World Cup training sites will be used by the competing clubs throughout the tournament. These are key venues for the FIFA World Cup as they will enable teams to stay and train in the same FIFA standards venue throughout the tournament.”
Al-Khater concluded by recognising the role different stakeholders have played in planning for a safe and successful return of continental football in Qatar: “I really want to take this opportunity to thank the great work that all parties involved in planning and delivering the AFC Champions League are doing to ensure the safety of everyone involved, but most importantly, the frontline staff who are working to provide critical support to ensure that all those have involved have all the support they need.”
© Gulf Times Newspaper 2020