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2020 may not have been a great year for the sports fraternity in general, but Qatar has offered a brighter outlook for 2021 …
2020 has not been the best of years for multiple reasons, with the COVID-19 pandemic paralyzing the entire world for most of the year.
Several sports, including soccer, have also been affected by the pandemic. Tournaments have been canceled, delayed or interrupted, with sports schedules underway.
Asian soccer also suffered. Internationals were postponed, with the World Cup and Asian Cup qualifiers postponed until 2021. The AFC Cup was scrapped for 2020. The fate of the AFC Champions League, with most group stages still to play, it was not clear.
However, at a time when the entire continent was seeking a safe return to the sport, Qatar, host of the 2022 World Cup, stepped forward.
Qatar rebooted its national competition, the Qatar Stars League (QSL), for the first time after implementing a biosecurity bubble and social distancing protocols in centralized locations. After proving its capabilities, Qatar extended a helping hand to the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) and offered to host the AFC Champions League West and East matches, including the final itself. They also hosted the final of the Amir Cup, Qatar’s most prestigious cup competition, on December 18.
The most surprising thing about the two finals was the fact that Qatar was able to celebrate both games in front of a significant number of fans. We’ve seen fans slowly return to games around the world, but in very small numbers. Premier League matches in England have only seen 2,000 fans in one stadium. In such a scenario, the AFC Champions League and the Amir Cup final saw 12,000 and 10,000 fans arrive at the stadium.
Also important was the scale at which the AFC Champions League was played. 30 teams participated in a total of 76 matches, held at three 2022 World Cup venues. With more than 900 players participating, Asia’s premier club competition was easily one of the most important sporting events ever held within a biosecurity bubble in 2020.
And the bubble protocols were praised throughout. Mandatory testing for Covid-19, safe transportation, disinfection, appropriate medical personnel, and social distancing protocols were implemented. Notably, Qatar conducted a total of 48,323 Covid-19 tests for these tournaments.
He also highlighted the availability of Qatar venues, the tournament’s operating capacity and the offer of fan experience. And now, it has also shown that the hosts of the 2022 World Cup can also ensure the safety, health and well-being of all stakeholders.
Kim Do-hoon, coach of the South Korean club Ulsan Hyundai that won the AFC Champions League, also praised Qatar and the measures taken for the safe resumption of sports.
“We were tested for COVID-19 every time we played a game the day before; this made us feel safe and I must thank the Local Organizing Committee and the AFC. The bubble system was implemented from start to finish and we could not meet anyone from outside, in addition to a good quarantine infrastructure when necessary.
Qatar, as it prepares to host the 2022 World Cup, will further demonstrate its capabilities by hosting multiple events in the coming years, beginning with the 2020 FIFA Club World Cup to be held in February 2021. They are also scheduled para will host an Arab Cup in December 2021.
Nasser Al Khater, Executive Director of the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 LLC, said after the Amir Cup final on December 18: “Tonight was an immensely proud occasion for Qatar and the people of Al Rayyan. It was the culmination of a rigorous multi-stakeholder effort over the course of several months, beginning with the AFC Champions League, until tonight where we saw thousands of fans enjoying the show for sure. “
“We look forward to hosting more safe and secure events in the coming months, and we sincerely hope that the world will quickly overcome the pandemic and resume life and sports as we have always enjoyed them,” he added.
FIFA President Gianni Infantino, who attended both the Amir Cup and the AFC Champions League final, said: “Over the past three months, Qatar has shown the world how you can continue to play soccer. And the fans remain engaged despite the Covid-19 pandemic they are all facing. Qatar has set a benchmark for the safe resumption of football in the COVID-19 world. “