AFC postpones Asian Champions League matches involving Chinese teams due to coronavirus

The continent’s governing body confirmed the decision on Tuesday following an emergency meeting at their headquarters in Kuala Lumpur

Shanghai SIPG's Hulk (R) fights for tha ball with Guangzhou Evergrande's Zhang Linpeng (C) during the Chinese Super League (CSL) football match between Guangzhou Evergrande and Shanghai SIPG in Guangzhou in China's southern Guangdong province on November 23 ,2019. China OUT
 / AFP / STR
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The Asian Football Confederation has announced the postponement of matches for Chinese clubs competing in this year’s Asian Champions League, following the outbreak of the coronavirus.

The continent’s governing body confirmed the decision on Tuesday following an emergency meeting at their headquarters in Kuala Lumpur with the six member associations involved in the east side of the competition.

The group stage of the tournament, the Asian Football Confederation's premier club event, begins next Monday. The body had originally decided that the four Chinese Super League entrants - Guangzhou Evergrande, Shanghai Shenhua, Beijing FC and Shanghai SIPG - would play their first three matches outside China.

Fixtures have been rescheduled to take place in April and May, the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) said in a statement, although a decision will be made as to whether they can be played will be made 21 days out from the fixtures.

“If it is decided the game cannot go ahead as proposed, the host club will have to nominate a neutral venue at least 14 days before the match day,” read the statement.

The knockout-stage matches for the east side of the draw have been proposed for June 16 and 17, with the return leg on June 23 or 24.

The AFC said they would “continue to closely evaluate the impact of the outbreak”, which has dominated the news agenda since the virus was first reported last month. Having originated in the Chinese city of Wuhan, the World Health Organisation has now declared it a global health emergency.

Dato' Windsor John, AFC general secretary, said: “We came together in difficult circumstances to find solutions to allow us to play football while ensuring we protect the safety and security of all players, officials, stakeholders and fans.

“We also accept that this coronavirus is a much bigger issue than just football and we wish all those who have been affected a speedy return to health.”

However, the AFC statement confirmed: “It was also decided that if matches, scheduled for Chinese teams, can be played as per the schedule then they will go ahead as planned – and so Chiangrai United’s match with Beijing will go ahead on Match Day 2 on February 18, 2020 [in Thailand], but only as Beijing are currently in camp in [South] Korea and may not need quarantine measures.

“Chiangrai United have stressed that they will continue to work closely with the Thai government and medical officials to monitor the ongoing and fast-moving situation.”

Last Thursday, the Chinese Football Association announced the suspension of all football matches in mainland China, including the Chinese Super League, the country’s head division. The new season had been scheduled to commence on February 22 and run until October 31. This year’s Chinese FA Super Cup match, between Shenhua and champions Evergrande, was slated for February 15.

After the AFC had switched the Chinese clubs' opening three Champions League matches to be played away from home, Australia introduced a travel ban on those coming from mainland China. That would have potentially affected Shenhua’s match against Perth Glory and Shanghai SIPG’s game at Sydney FC, played next Tuesday and Wednesday, respectively.

The impact of the virus has been felt at other football events, with the current Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games women’s football qualifiers rescheduled several times. Originally to be staged in Wuhan, they were moved to Nanjing, before finally settling in Sydney.

Also, the AFC has postponed its 2020 AFC Futsal Championship, which was scheduled to run from February 26 to March 8, in Turkmenistan.