(Reuters) - Global players’ union FIFPRO said it was concerned about a “lack of consultation” over the Asian Football Confederation’s decision to complete the eastern zone of its elite club competition in Qatar due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
After the Asian Champions League (ACL) was suspended in March, the western zone matches were completed in Qatar and the AFC then decided to also move the remaining eastern zone matches to the Gulf nation to be played from Nov. 18-Dec. 13.
Despite stringent bio-security measures, a string of players contracted the novel coronavirus in Doha, with defending champions Al Hilal axed from the competition after they were only able to muster 11 players for their final group fixture.
“FIFPRO is disappointed and concerned by the lack of consultation of professional footballers in the scheduling of the AFC Champions League in Qatar and the planning of COVID-19 protocols,” FIFPRO said in a statement.
“These matters have implications for their mental and physical health as well as their participation in domestic leagues.
“Neither FIFPRO nor our affiliated player associations in Australia, Japan, Malaysia, South Korea and Thailand ... were asked about the competition for the eastern AFC region prior to the announcement.”
FIFPRO said it had not received any information about the outbreak of the virus in the tournament’s bio-secure bubble.
It added that several players due to compete in Qatar had expressed concerns to their unions about travelling during the pandemic and having to face a two-week quarantine period upon their return home.
In response, the AFC said the decision to host the rest of the tournament in Qatar was made after it received no expression of interest from the eastern zone clubs and member associations to host matches in the region.
The AFC added that player safety and wellbeing remains the “highest priority” for the organisers.
“The organisation of the AFC Champions League (West) has given us a blueprint to follow,” the AFC said in a statement.
“... We will ensure that all players and officials will be tested before and upon their arrival in Qatar and we will also extend these tests to be conducted every three to six days throughout the duration of the tournament.”
The Sydney Morning Herald reported on Thursday that Australian sides Sydney FC, Melbourne Victory and Perth Glory would fulfil their obligations after the AFC said they faced a $300,000 ($215,250) fine and two-year ban if they pulled out.
The AFC are desperate to complete the competition to fulfil broadcasting requirements.
Iran’s Persepolis won the western zone and will face a team from the eastern zone in the final in Doha on Dec. 19.
Reporting by Shrivathsa Sridhar in Bengaluru; Editing by Peter Rutherford and Toby Davis
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