AFC Champions League Success for Hosts Qatar
Qatar has held a variety of 'test events' at its new stadiums to expand its hosting experience and test the country's infrastructure - stadiums, metro and rail systems, hospitality services, etc. - in preparation for the 2022 World Cup. If the 2019 FIFA Club World Cup in Qatar proved the country's ability to host a major football tournament, with only two new World Cup stadiums completed, then hosting the 2020 AFC Champions League (west region) showed its grit, determination and ability to manage during a crisis.
It was a daring move for Qatar to agree to host the west region's AFC Champions League, which ran from September 14th to October 3rd. They were the first to hold a continental tournament since the COVID-19 pandemic shut the region's football industry down. However, the bold decision paid off. The competition was a success in terms of football. And, in terms of testing the country's operational readiness, especially in terms of welfare and safety, under unprecedented and challenging conditions.
A total of 16 teams from across Asia were welcomed to Qatar during the tournament - Asia's premier club competition. Organisers worked with national and international health and safety bodies to ensure a plan was drawn up in advance for conducting the tournament safely, and that strict guidelines followed throughout the event. Players and officials were regularly tested for COVID-19 from their arrival in Qatar to their exit. In fact, during the entire event, almost 8,000 virus tests were carried out on all individuals associated with the games - from team members, staff and officials, to stadium and training venue staff and hotel staff. And, all were required to maintain set 'bubbles' while the competition took place, with social distancing and the wearing of face masks, like virus testing, a mandatory requirement. The organising bodies ensured safe, sanitised accommodation, transportation, training and medical facilities, and the continual presence of medical staff throughout the competition. The result was a successful event, which, through stringent planning and procedures, identified and isolated 96 positive and 56 reactive cases of COVID-19, and enabled the completion of the west region's league games.
Off of the back of that success, the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) requested that Qatar also host the Champions League matches for the east region. Keen to revitalise the football industry after such a diabolical year, Qatar accepted the invitation and will host the tournament from November 18th to December 13th. Organisers have spoken of their eagerness to offer their sports infrastructure, as well as their expertise, to help efforts to resume continental football.
The players and officials of the sixteen teams travelling to Qatar for the tournament will, of course, have to observe strict health and safety protocols put in place for the west zone tournament. Under those stringent measures, the teams will hopefully battle it out for a place in the AFC Champions League Final. The Final is set to take place on December 19th, against Iran's Persepolis who won the west zone tournament.
With the next World Cup a mere two years away and with the hosting experiences they have had under their belt - be it during normal or COVID-times, Qatar is emerging from the pandemic crisis stronger and more confident about hosting the 2022 tournament.
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