A Hat Trick for Qatar - Hosts of the AFC Final
After COVID-19 triggered a long football hiatus for Asian continental matches, Qatar started the ball rolling again when it hosted the 2020 AFC Champions League for the west region. The previously postponed and reformatted tournament was a huge success with Iran's Persepolis winning the west's competition. On the back of that achievement, Qatar was handing the hosting rights for the tournament's east region games - to be held from November 18th to December 13th 2020. The icing on the cake came after the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) also invited Qatar to host the Champions League Final between Persepolis and the winner of the east region competition. The AFC's decision to reach out to Qatar for all three events is a testament to the country's capabilities as a sports host, as well as its competence in crisis management.
Hosting Successfully in COVID-Times
Considering the potential for infection for travelling teams and staff, and on the ground officials and support staff in Doha, the success of the west region tournament was a great accomplishment. The management of the games in the middle of the pandemic displayed Qatar’s exemplary event management know-how, and its stringent and effective COVID-19 planning and protocol.
In organising the event, Qatar’s main football bodies and public health organisations worked alongside the AFC and international health and safety institutes to draw up a plan for conducting the tournament safely, as well as strict guidelines for the event itself. This included the necessity for regular COVID-19 testing of all individuals associated with the event, the requirement for individuals to maintain set ‘bubbles’ for the duration of the tournament, obligatory social distancing and wearing of masks, and stringent disinfection and sanitisation protocols.
During the entire event, almost 8,000 virus tests were carried out on team members, staff and officials, and stadium and training venue and hotel employees. Safe, sanitised accommodation, transportation, training and medical facilities, and the continual presence of medical staff were provided throughout the competition. The result was a successful tournament with minimal cases of infection (any cases identified were quickly isolated with patients cared for in the country’s state-of-the-art medical facilities).
The Final of the Asian continent’s premier club competition is to be held six days after the east region tournament closes on December 19th. The head-to-head will be a single-leg format - having been reformatted, due to virus imposed restrictions, from the usual two-leg affair with finalists playing both home and away matches.
The players and officials of the east region teams and the league finalists will, of course, have to observe strict health and safety protocols put in place for the west zone tournament. But, having witnessed the victory over the pandemic in October, those travelling to Doha for the event should feel that it is a small price to pay for completing this year's league.
The east region games and the final could be held in any one of Qatar’s new 2022 World Cup stadiums. The west region games were held at three of the new venues, Al Janoub Stadium, Education City Stadium and Khalifa International Stadium. With Al Bayt Stadium and Al Rayyan Stadium close to completion, and Al Thumama Stadium not too far behind, there is potential to see the new facilities in action during the matches at the end of the year. For Qatar, all of the additional hosting experience at their new stadiums can only bode well for the 2022 World Cup tournament!
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