MUMBAI, Feb 29 (Reuters) - The health and safety of everyone associated with soccer will take precedence as the Asian Football Confederation hopes for a swift return to normality for the sport amid the coronavirus outbreak, the continental governing body said on Saturday.
The rapid spread of coronavirus has raised fears of a pandemic, with eight countries reporting their first cases and the World Health Organization raising its global spread and impact risk alert to “very high”.
The AFC will hold its second emergency meeting on Monday at its Kuala Lumpur headquarters to discuss contingency plans for holding World Cup and Olympic qualifiers as well as the Asian Champions League games.
“In these circumstances, we will ensure that the health and safety of the football family and fans is paramount and that is the clear message from the AFC,” confederation chief Shaikh Salman Bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa said in a statement.
“The AFC will not put anyone at risk during these times of heightened health concerns and so we have taken some sensible decisions to postpone both matches and events.”
Soccer is one of many international sports events that have been hit by the coronavirus.
Matches in the AFC Champions League, the premier club competition in the continent, and the AFC Cup as well as women’s Olympic qualifying play-off games have already been postponed with the emergence of the virus in the member nations.
The AFC Congress, which was scheduled for Kuala Lumpur on April 16, has also been postponed.
“The AFC hopes that there is a quick and safe end to this current situation and that we can return to normality where football can play a role in bringing some joy and entertainment to people’s lives,” the Bahraini added.
“In the meantime, I have instructed the AFC Administration to continue monitoring the spread of the virus and to take the appropriate and immediate action needed to protect the football family and fans.” (Reporting by Sudipto Ganguly; Editing by Ed Davies)