Representatives from six member associations – Australia, China, Japan, South Korea, Thailand and Malaysia – whose teams are competing in the AFC Champions League have decided to postpone matches involving Chinese clubs scheduled for this month and early next month following the coronavirus outbreak.
This adds to an already extensive list of sports events cancelled as a result of the outbreak.
During the meeting at the Asian Football Confederation in Kuala Lumpur yesterday, it was also decided that Thai club Chiangrai United FC will play against Beijing Guoan on Feb 18 as the Chinese footballers are currently training in South Korea and may not be required to be quarantined.
The Thais, however, will work closely with their health officials to monitor the situation as over 400 people have died with over 20,000 cases reported.
The close to three-hour meeting was a tricky one for member associations and the AFC as they discussed the latest immigration regulations of the respective nations, guidelines by their health authorities and fixtures of the domestic leagues.
China’s leader Xi Jinping has demanded a more aggressive response to the epidemic which also caused stocks in China to plunge on Monday and disrupted businesses in the mainland and beyond.
Malaysian health authorities yesterday announced that a 41-year-old man from Selangor was the first Malaysian to be infected by the novel coronavirus. The total number of cases in the country now stands at 10.
Many nations have since tightened their borders, barring those from China, especially Wuhan, from entry.
Questions were also raised about athletes preparing for the Olympics in Tokyo which starts on July 24.
Japan Prime Minister Shinzo Abe played down concerns and was quoted telling an opposition lawmaker: “We will respond appropriately … while closely cooperating with the World Health Organisation and other international organisations so that we can proceed with the preparations without letting it affect the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics.”
Schools in at least 26 Vietnam provinces were closed on Monday while the Vietnam Football Federation announced that its 2020 season, scheduled to kick off with the Super Cup match between Hanoi FC and Ho Chi Minh City FC on Feb 7, has been postponed.
The AFC will also continue to closely evaluate the impact of the outbreak as it was proposed that the postponed matches be re-scheduled to April and May while the East Zone Round of 16 matches are planned for June 16 and June 17 with the return leg played on either June 23 or 24.
But playing in April or May could pose a problem. Gabriel Leung, dean of Hong Kong University’s medical school, had on Monday said the outbreak was expected to peak in April or May in five major cities – Beijing, Shanghai, Chongqing, Shenzhen and Guangzhou – before the number of infections would start to gradually decline in June or July.
Several other sporting events have also been cancelled, including China’s domestic football league, Formula E’s plans for a race in Sanya on March 21 as the Shanghai race in April remains uncertain while the Feb 25 to March 1 China Masters tournament in Hainan was postponed after several shuttlers withdrew.
Even the elite women’s LPGA cancelled the March 5-8 Blue Bay golf tournament in Hainan.
Hongshan Arena, a sports arena in Wuhan having hosted the Military World Games in October last year, is renovated into a provisionary hospital of 800 beds for patients showing less severe symptoms. 5 other arenas and exhibition centers have also been renovated for patients. pic.twitter.com/rpxBUCn7gX
— Titan Sports Plus (@titan_plus) February 4, 2020
Representatives from the six football associations, however, agreed that a deadline to assess the latest situation be set 21 days before each match. If a game cannot go as planned, the host club will have to nominate a neutral venue at least 14 days before match day.
AFC general secretary Datuk Windsor Paul John said: “We came together in difficult circumstances to find solutions to allow us to play football while ensuring 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.”
Malaysia’s Johor Darul Ta’zim is among the Southeast Asian teams seeing action in the AFC Champions League.