Dubai // The Asian Football Confederation (AFC) has urged the Pro League Committee (PLC) to work harder at getting more fans into the stadiums and devise plans to improve the financial independence of the clubs.
An AFC delegation, headed by Tokuaki Suzuki, the director of competitions, has been in the country since October 4, touring all the clubs to evaluate them on the basis of the 11-point eligibility criteria for participation in the Champions League.
The delegation was impressed with the improvements and praised the facilities at the clubs and their youth development programmes. Eleven of the 12 stadiums were given an A-class rating, with only Dubai club falling short.
"If a country has two A-class stadiums, they meet the criteria," Suzuki said. "So having 11 out 12 stadiums in the A-class is a very high percentage. We can also confirm that every club has a very good grass roots and youth development system. I think that is the reason why the UAE age group teams, as well as the Olympic side, are performing so well in Asia in recent times."
Despite all the investments in the sport, the league has failed to attract many fans, and their absence could cost UAE a spot in the Champions League when the AFC meet in November to decide the number of places for each country.
"I believe the main challenge of UAE football is still the number of attendance," Suzuki said. "We have discussed this with the PLC and [Football Association], and we have also talked with the clubs on how to increase the numbers. We can work together to focus on the season ticket sales or encourage more community programmes."
The AFC criteria for the 2012 Champions League requires a minimum average attendance of 5,000 per game, but the league is well short of those numbers.
"Last year, the attendance was 2,600," Suzuki said. "This year, it has increased to 3,200. So we appreciate the progress made by the clubs, but our criteria is a minimum of 5,000 average."
Abdullah Al Junaibi, the PLC deputy chairman, conceded meeting this criteria would be the biggest challenge.
"We have seen a big increase in numbers during the Etisalat Cup, but we have not reached our target," he said.
Al Junaibi also said the clubs had improved on the financial side, with government funding "down by 50 per cent" over last year. Suzuki, however, would like to see more improvements.
"The financial structure at the clubs here is still not very healthy," Suzuki said. "There is too much reliance on the government or individual donations.
"As a professional football club, they should have more income and profits from tickets, sponsors, TV rights, merchandising and other football activities."
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