BANGKOK (Reuters) - Matches between clubs from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar will continue to be played on a home-and-away basis in next year’s Asian Champions League despite an on-going diplomatic dispute between the Gulf states, the Asian Football Confederation said on Tuesday.
The AFC’s executive committee decided to maintain the current format of its flagship club event in the face of a ban imposed on travel in and out of Qatar by a Saudi Arabia-led coalition that is backed by the United Arab Emirates.
Clubs from the three nations regularly play each other in the Asian Champions League, although this year’s competition was not affected by the standoff as Qatari teams had been eliminated before the action was taken in early June.
The confederation said in a statement it would send a “high-level delegation to the concerned countries to try and mediate the situation with the concerned (member associations) and governments to find a solution for the matches”.
The dispute has already led to complications for Qatar’s hosting of the regional Gulf Cup competition, with Saudi, UAE and close ally Bahrain refusing to confirm their participation in next month’s tournament. Qatar is also due to host the World Cup in 2022.
The Asian Champions League already sees games featuring clubs from Saudi Arabia and Iran played in neutral venues due to a diplomatic disagreement between those countries. Qatar, along with Oman and the United Arab Emirates, hosted some of those games this season.
Meanwhile, the AFC has said it will begin the tender process for the confederation’s commercial rights in February of next year, with the aim to finalise the procedure by May or June 2018.
The rights are currently held by Lagardere Sports and Entertainment with the existing contract, which started in 2014 and is worth $1 billion, due to expire at the end of 2021.
“The AFC will ensure that transparent and fair procedures are followed and that the views of the Member Associations are taken into consideration,” AFC President Shaikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa said.
Reporting by Michael Church in Bangkok, Editing by Christian Radnedge