HONG KONG (Reuters) - Qatari officials are confident that refinements made to health protocols for the resumption of eastern half of the Asian Champions League will prevent novel coronavirus infections from again influencing the outcome of the competition.
The continent’s premier club competition has been delayed and heavily disrupted by the global health crisis this year, not least when the western half was completed in a biosecure bubble in Doha in September and October.
A rash of positive tests played havoc with team selections and title holders Al Hilal were unable to complete their fixtures after infections left the club with only 11 fit players, two of them goalkeepers.
Fifteen teams from east Asia have arrived in the Qatari capital to complete the group and knockout stages to determine who progresses to the final against Iran’s Persepolis at Al Janoub Stadium on Dec. 19.
Dr Abdul Wahab Al Musleh, the adviser to the minister of public health of Qatar on sports affairs, believes amendments made to arrangements for the biosecure bubbles will limit the chance of infections.
“This time we are doing the testing more often. We will do it for all the teams on match day minus-one or minus-two before they compete with others,” Al Musleh told Reuters by video call from Doha.
“And there are several other public measures that we have undertaken. For example, we limit their interactions with others, including their own team in the hotel, so we encourage strongly all their technical meetings are happening online or outdoors.”
Health officials believe the infections in Al Hilal’s squad were picked up when the players attended a party to celebrate winning the Saudi title - after completing coronavirus testing in Riyadh but prior to their departure for Qatar.
As a result, protocols that were in place at the beginning of the tournament for west Asian teams were tweaked to prevent players from sharing hotel rooms, while they were also encouraged to eat in their quarters rather than communally.
Those stricter regulations remain in place for the start of the east Asian portion of the competition and Al Musleh believes there will be fewer issues the second time around.
“I don’t think there has been any similar experience for anybody, so it was definitely a learning curve,” he said.
“We learned so many lessons that we have applied for the next tournament and hopefully we will be able to reduce the number of people infected and prevent big clusters of infections among any of the teams.”
Al Musleh has also held online meetings with technical and medical representatives of all the clubs travelling to Qatar to inform them of the protocols but concedes that it is impossible to offer any guarantees.
“There is always going to be remaining some risk,” he said. “Our duty is to minimise the risk with the ability to conduct the event.
“If you want to be totally 100% risk free then you don’t play sport.”
Editing by Nick Mulvenney and Robert Birsel
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