Al-Hi­lal hit out at ‘in­flex­i­ble’ AFC over Cham­pi­ons League ax­ing

AFC said it had al­ready let the club to bring in play­ers to re­place those who con­tracted virus

Arab News - - Sport News - Mo­hammed Al-Ki­nani Jed­dah

Al-Hi­lal have crit­i­cized the Asian Foot­ball Con­fed­er­a­tion (AFC) for its “in­flex­i­bil­ity” af­ter the reign­ing cham­pi­ons were kicked out of the Asian Cham­pi­ons League be­cause they were only able to muster 11 play­ers for their fi­nal Group B fix­ture.

The Saudi club, which had al­ready qual­i­fied for the last 16, said it had been de­ter­mined to de­fend its ti­tle de­spite 30 play­ers and staff be­com­ing in­fected with COVID-19 in the Qatar hub where Asia’s premier club com­pe­ti­tion re­sumed last week.

“The board of di­rec­tors sought to work on a num­ber of meth­ods that pre­served Al-Hi­lal’s right to com­pete with­out any dis­or­der to the tour­na­ment,” the club said in a state­ment.

“All these re­quests were re­jected by the AFC, in spite of fac­ing com­pelling cir­cum­stances that re­quired greater flex­i­bil­ity from the AFC in as­sess­ing the sit­u­a­tion.” Among the sug­ges­tions re­jected by the AFC, Al-Hi­lal said, were that the club would for­feit its fi­nal group match against Shabab Al-Ahli Dubai but not its place in the com­pe­ti­tion, and that there should be a one-day post­pone­ment of Wed­nes­day’s fix­ture.

It also sug­gested the knock­out stages, sched­uled to start on Sun­day, should be put back “in the light of the out­break of COVID-19 at the level of the whole tour­na­ment, not just Al-Hi­lal.”

The AFC said when an­nounc­ing Al-Hi­lal’s exit that it had al­ready al­lowed the club to bring in play­ers to re­place some of those who had con­tracted the virus and that a post­pone­ment would have a “huge neg­a­tive im­pact” on the sched­ule. Al-Hi­lal also said the com­pe­ti­tion rules de­mand­ing match­day squads of 13 play­ers con­tra­vened FIFA’s “ba­sic law of the game” that only 11, in­clud­ing one goal­keeper, were re­quired to con­test a foot­ball match. The board said it was con­sid­er­ing sub­mit­ting a protest to the “ju­di­cial au­thor­i­ties.”

Ma­jed Garoub, Saudi lawyer and founder and chair­man of the law firm of Ma­jed Garoub, told Arab News that Al-Hi­lal “en­tered the cham­pi­onship to de­fend their ti­tle. The team fought hard un­til they

reached the last 16, and this means they are con­fi­dent of them­selves.” “For Hi­lal play­ers, they were not de­feated in the field, other fac­tors de­feated them. The Asian fed­er­a­tion’s de­ci­sion was ac­cord­ing to the reg­u­la­tions of the tour­na­ment. From a for­mal point of view, it was le­gal.” How­ever, he said, “in­stead of kick­ing Hi­lal out of the cham­pion the dis­re­spect­ful way they did, they could have de­cided a 0-3 de­feat against Hi­lal be­fore its first match

in the last 16. This way, Hi­lal would have left the tour­na­ment like any other team that has lost in the last 16.”

Ev­ery­one sym­pa­thized with Hi­lal, he said, but as is the case in such cham­pi­onships, the sched­uled matches should be played in their presched­uled time, as ho­tel book­ings, air reser­va­tions, broad­cast­ing and many other things are pre­planned.

Garoub said that the Court of

Ar­bi­tra­tion for Sport ( CAS) had no author­ity over the con­ti­nen­tal tour­na­ments, and there­fore, it can change noth­ing.

Ac­cord­ing the rules of the cham­pi­onship, the dis­ci­plinary com­mit­tee and the rel­e­vant com­mit­tees within the Asian fed­er­a­tion have the fi­nal say.

How­ever, he said, tak­ing the case to CAS or FIFA can show these big en­ti­ties how much the Gulf teams, es­pe­cially from Saudi and UAE, are suf­fer­ing from their con­ti­nen­tal fed­er­a­tion.

Al-Hi­lal’s de­par­ture means Shabab Al Ahli Dubai qual­ify for the knock­out stage from Group B along with Uzbeki club Pakhtakor, who beat Iran’s Shahr Kho­dro 1-0 in their fi­nal round robin match in Doha on Wed­nes­day.

Group A, which was re­duced to three teams when Emi­rati club Al-Wahda were kicked out be­fore the re­sump­tion af­ter an out­break of COVID-19 in their squad, also con­cluded on Wed­nes­day.

Iran’s Estegh­lal beat the Saudi group win­ners Al-Ahli 3-0 at Al-Janoub Sta­dium to se­cure sec­ond spot and a place in the knock­out stages ahead of Iraqi cham­pi­ons Al-Shorta.

Files/ AFP

The Riyadh-based club have qual­i­fied for the last 16, but will now be un­able to de­fend their ti­tle af­ter be­ing kicked out of the AFC Cham­pi­ons League.

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