Webinar discusses Qatar’s COVID-19 tournament model as AFC Champions League draws to a close in Doha
Representatives from the Asian Football Confederation (AFC), Qatari medical authorities and the AFC Champions League Local Organising Committee (LOC) have participated in a virtual webinar to discuss the measures taken by Qatar to safely host the continental tournament and examine lessons learnt for future major sporting events during the COVID-19 era.
From 14 September to 3 October 2020, Qatar played host to 15 teams from Saudi Arabia, Iran, United Arab Emirates, Uzbekistan and Iraq, with the teams completing the remaining 36 AFC Champions League matches as part of the confederation’s remaining western region fixtures.
The matches were played within a robust bubble-to-bubble bio framework that ensured all participants remained safely isolated from the outside world in a manner that allowed for their safety and the ability to participate in all aspects of the tournament.
Other measures included mandatory COVID-19 testing, safe transportation methods, regular disinfection of all tournament venues, including training and media facilities, as well as the provision of medical staff in stadiums throughout the competition.
The webinar - titled ‘Hosting Mega Sporting Events in a COVID-19 World’ - convened international experts in the medical, competitions and health and safety fields who discussed the measures that were put in place in Qatar and what lessons can be learnt and applied in future sporting events in the COVID-19 era.
Dr. Abdul Wahab Al Musleh, Advisor to the Minister of Public Health of Qatar on Sports Affairs, joined the webinar and said:
“From the beginning we have taken a very systematic approach, which has meant that all participants were subject to testing prior to being allowed into the rigid bio bubble. This means that they are only allowed to go to stadiums and training sites through a dedicated transport system, where even the drivers are part of the bubble.”
He added: “We administered more than 7,900 tests on all players, and officials and across the LOC workforce with and witnessed a very low positivity rate of just 1.7 per cent, compared to the national level of approximately of five per cent, which is low in its own right. The tests were repeated every three to six days which meant that any positive cases were detected very early on, thereby limiting the spread of COVID-19 amongst tournament participants.”
AFC Deputy Director of Competitions and Football Events Division, Avazbek Berdikulov, helped deliver the tournament in Qatar and joined the webinar. He said: “When it comes to hosting a tournament of this scale during a pandemic, and responding to positive cases in a swift and safe manner, Qatar has shown the rest of the world that there is a place for football to return. With the FIFA World Cup 2022™ qualifiers about to resume, we are now more confident that this can be done so safely, with the Qatari experience of hosting the AFC Champions League playing a major part in that.”
Berdikulov added: “This tournament was also a fantastic opportunity for some of the region’s best clubs and players to experience some of Qatar’s world-class FIFA World Cup infrastructure. Everyone at the AFC thanks Qatar and the Qatar Football Association for stepping up to stage this tournament during such testing times and allowing us to give fans live continental football again.”
From a local organising perspective, Gordon Penney, LOC Health and Safety Senior Manager, described the importance of having clear lines of communication between different stakeholders and ensuring that measures were communicated well ahead of time:
“A key component of the measures taken was our ability to communicate with everyone involved in the staging of these matches. Building a common understanding of why these measures were in place meant that arriving teams knew what to expect before they touched down in Qatar, and had been given ample opportunity to adjust their behaviors for the safety of everyone involved. We also made sure we examined and assessed measures that had been applied by other sporting organisations around the world to take lessons and enable us to build our own unique approach suitable for this tournament and a country like Qatar.”
To learn more about the safety measures taken by the AFC and the Local Organising Committee, please visit: https://www.qatar2022.qa/en/news/qatar-implements-safety-measures-for-2020-afc-champions-league-western-zone-matches