Doha, 16 November 2020 - Following the successful organization of the COVID-19-delayed West Zone group and knockout matches of 2020 AFC Champions League, Qatar is all set to step in yet again successfully as a centralized venue for the East Zone phase of Asia’s elite continental competition, according to Qatar Football Association’s Khalid Al Kuwari, who is also the Marketing and Communications Director of the Local Organizing Committee of the 2020 AFC Champions League East Zone.
“It gives utmost satisfaction to the LOC to align with the AFC and bring to Qatar the distinguished East Zone phase of the AFC Champions League after successfully hosting the West Zone phase,” Al Kuwari said while addressing the media on Tuesday two days ahead of the kickoff of the tournament which will witness 15 teams battling it out across 40 matches to decide the identity of the Finalist against Iran’s Perspolis who had won the West Zone competition held between 14 September and 3 October.
“Life must go on but under strict precautions and under certain rules and regulations. The 2020 East Zone AFC Champions League LOC and the AFC are cooperating in a dynamic manner and are ably supported by the Government of Qatar in matters such as COVID safety and testing protocols. It gives us an opportunity to test the effectiveness of the facilities that will be in use during the tournament – five bubble hotels, four stadiums including the three fully completed ones that will be used in the 2022 FIFA World Cup Qatar,” said Al Kuwari.
“The afternoon kick-off timings once again will enable us to demonstrate the efficiency of our pioneering stadium cooling system which had earned a lot of praise during the West Zone tournament, he added. “Overall, I am confident that Qatar will once again demonstrate its high standards of hosting excellence on multiple fronts especially the tournament infrastructure and the health and safety of players and officials.”
Dr. Abdul Wahab Al Musleh, Advisor to Minister of Public Health of Qatar on Sports Affairs, shed light on the COVID safety policies and protocols that will be in place during the competition. “I thank the AFC for choosing Qatar as the centralized venue for the East Zone AFC Champions League after we delivered a successful West Zone competition,” said Dr. Al Musleh, who is overseeing the health and safety aspects of the East Zone competition after essaying a similar role during the West Zone one as well.
“We have written the COVID best practices protocol and tested it at various events including the West Zone matches of the AFC Champions League,” said Dr. Al Musleh. “We are implementing the same bubble-to-bubble method for the East Zone matches as well and the learnings from the West Zone matches will be applied here with some fine tunings. We have already conducted swab tests at the airport on the teams who have arrived in Doha and will be doing so for all arrivals. All teams will make their way to their designated hotel bubble. They will be tested every three or six days, whichever the case may be depending on whether there are positive cases or not. Enforcing social distancing guidelines, wearing of masks at all times and conducting temperature checks are the precautionary best practices that will be seen in the East Zone matches as well.”
Dr. Al Musleh shed light on the policy improvements which the East Zone tournament will witness. “During the West Zone tournament, we learned things as we went by. There was a breach of the bio-bubble by a particular team and we then had to frame a policy for the violation of the bio-bubble terms and conditions. In the East Zone competition, we have been able to introduce all these policies right from the start of the competition.”
The eminent medical advisor added pragmatically that the nature of COVID-19 across the world is such that one has to be prepared for positive cases at all times. “We are expecting one to three percent of tests conducted during the tournament to give positive results. This is in line with the general trend in the country. In the case of a positive test for a player or official, the Isolation hotel facility will be provided by the government free of charge. Players who have been in close contact will also be isolated in the same bubble hotel and they can continue training and participating in the tournament as long as they don’t test positive.”
Avazdek Berdikulov, AFC Deputy Director of Competitions and Football Events Division, concurred with Dr. Al Musleh regarding the health and safety protocols, policies and implementation. “We are happy to be back in Qatar following the successful organization of the West Zone group and knockout matches,” he said. “The East Zone matches will witness more or less the same safety procedures and we are quite comfortable with it. There are some changes, which are improvements after applying the learnings from the West Zone tournament. Participating clubs from all nations have been cooperating very well and they are all convinced that Qatar is a safe host nation capable of a high level of hosting standard. We have put in place a mechanism of working with the QFA and the LOC to attend to matters at the highest possible levels in all necessary scenarios.”
The East Zone phase of the 2020 AFC Champions League will conclude with the Zonal final on 13 December which will be followed by the AFC Champions League Final on 19 December at the Al Janoub Stadium, a venue for the 2022 FIFA WC Qatar™.
Three other stadiums – Khalifa International Stadium, Education City Stadium and Jassim bin Hamad Stadium in Al Sadd Sports Club – will also host the competition with Khalifa
International Stadium and Education City Stadium also being venues for the 2022 FIFA World Cup Qatar™.
Three of the training sites nominated for the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 ™ — Qatar University, Al-Oqla, and Al-Ersal – will host training sessions during the competition allowing players to train and play in modern facilities meeting the highest FIFA standards.