(REUTERS, AFP, XINHUA) - This year's edition of Asia's second-tier AFC Cup club competition has been cancelled amid the Covid-19 pandemic, the continent's football governing body said in a statement on Thursday (Sept 10).
The competition, in which teams from more minor nations in Asia participate, had been suspended since March due to the coronavirus crisis and was originally scheduled to resume this month in centralised venues.
"In view of the logistics in coordinating the five zones of the AFC Cup and completing the inter-zone matches, the AFC executive committee also agreed that the pandemic created complexities which constituted a force majeure event and, with sadness, led to the cancellation of the 2020 competition," the Asian Football Confederation said.
Earlier in the day, an official said the AFC received a recommendation to cancel the event.
Lebanon's Hachem Haidar, a member of the exco, said the advice was due to be presented at the meeting.
The tournament was due to resume later this month in four host countries but three of the nine groups had remained without a home.
Group F matches, including those for Singapore Premier League club Hougang United, were due to take place at the Thong Nhat Stadium in Ho Chi Minh City, while the Group G ties were scheduled for Quang Ninh's Cam Pha Stadium.
The host for Group H, which includes current SPL leaders Tampines Rovers, had yet to be confirmed.
While Gavin Lee, coach of group leaders Stags who have seven points, lamented the move, he acknowledged that "health is most important, there are more important things than football".
He added: "We were targeting to qualify out of the groups - something we came close to the season before - but... we want to move on and look at what we have to play for.
"We always saw AFC competitions as a privilege. If we want to play in such a prestigious tournament, the consequence is that we play more games and that's something that we like."
Unlike Tampines, the Cheetahs were not in an advantageous position, on three points and trailing Group F joint-leaders Ho Chi Minh City and Yangon United by four when play was halted. The club, however, still had a chance to progress on their tournament debut.
Coach Clement Teo is now training his sights on the possible restart of the SPL, which could be later this month, six months after it was first put on ice. They finished third in the SPL last year.
"Naturally, we're disappointed because this is the first time participating in the competition in the club's history," he said. "We felt that there was an opportunity to proceed to the second round.
"But due to the pandemic, there's only so much we can do. With this (cancellation), we can focus on one single objective, and that is to play in the league and try to do better than we did last season."
The AFC Champions League, the continent's showpiece competition, has also been suspended since March but will resume in West Asia hub Qatar on Sept 14.
East Zone matches are scheduled to be played between Nov 15 and Dec 13.
The final will be played in the West Zone on Dec 19 as a stand-alone game rather than in the traditional home and away format.
The AFC Futsal Championship has been pushed back by a month to December, while the AFC Solidarity Cup and AFC Futsal Club Championship UAE 2020 have been cancelled.
"These are tough times for everyone connected with football. We are taking steps to ensure the financial well-being of the AFC and its member associations," AFC president Shaikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa said.
"I am certain that with the unity and solidarity for which the AFC has become admired across football, we can overcome this latest challenge."
Additionally, the AFC U-16 and AFC U-19 Championships, scheduled for Bahrain and Uzbekistan this year, have been postponed to early 2021.
The challenges presented by Covid-19 meant it is no longer possible to host the 30th AFC Congress in person in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia on Dec 9, and the meeting will instead be held online, it added.
AFC said in a separate statement that it had received notification from Al Wahda of the United Arab Emirates that the club is unable to travel to Qatar to compete in the AFC Champions League West Zone matches where they currently occupy second place in Group A after several members of the club tested positive for the virus.
AFC said the request for a postponement of the group matches cannot be accommodated because of the advanced preparations as many teams have already travelled to Qatar for the competition.
Additional reporting by Kimberly Kwek