AFC sacks ASEAN four from Champions League

Four leading South East Asian (ASEAN) football clubs have been disqualified from participating in the 2006-07 AFC Champions League for failing to adhere to player registration regulations. Thailand's Provincial Electricity Authority and Thailand Tobacco Monopoly and Indonesia's Arema Malang and Persipura Jayapura failed to submit their Official Player Registration forms by the deadline of midnight Sunday 12 February 2006 set by the Asian Football Confederation. The clubs have no right of appeal.

The AFC Champions League is for the league and cup champions of the top 14 national associations in the AFC, as decided by the Vision Asia ranking system. Two other clubs, Al Hilal from Yemen and Dhofar from Oman, were also turned out of the AFC Cup, a tournament for teams from Asia's "emerging" football associations, for the same reason.

The Organising Committee for AFC Club Competitions, sitting in Kuala Lumpur on Tuesday, decided that this failure represented a serious breach of Regulation 32 G i) of the rules governing the competition. The decision was ratified by the AFC Competitions Committee. The regulation states: All registrations must be filed by the deadline of registration windows: (i) Any Club that does not submit their registration by the registration deadline for Match Days in the Group Stage will be automatically disqualified from the Competition. In this situation, the team will be deemed to have lost all their matches by a score of 3-0.

“It is essential that clubs comply with the regulations that govern AFC competitions, and failing to meet a registration deadline represents a serious breach of these regulations, AFC president, Mohamed bin Hammam, commented. “The AFC Champions League is Asia’s premier club competition and we simply cannot have clubs in this flagship event who show such disregard for the regulations. Clubs who pay little attention to such basic administrative matters have no place in the continent’s premier club competition.

"Clubs throughout Asia have made great strides to improve their administrative practices and we can only hope that this decision serves as a lesson to show that the AFC will not tolerate such lapses in the future. This decision was taken in the best interests of the competition. Our commitment to professionalise the administration of Asian club football is total.

"To this end, I am pleased to advise that AFC will form a committee whose sole undertaking is to provide recommendations to the AFC President and Executive Committee on how best to improve club football in Asia, and in particular a revised structure for the AFC Champions League. I very much look forward to receiving the report and recommendations on the matter," he said.

The AFC has decided that despite the disqualifications, the format of the competition will stay the same. Group F and Group G will consequently contain only two teams. Now only Tokyo Verdy of Japan and Ulsan Horang-I of the Korea Republic are left in Group F and Shanghai Shenhua of China and Dong Tam Long An of Vietnam in Group G.

An AFC spokeswoman told AFP newsagency that less severe punishment was not considered as the clubs had already been granted an extension to complete the forms. "We showed some flexibility, and we had no choice but to disqualify them. We need to enforce the credibility of the competition," she said.

But two of the clubs claim to have reason to feel aggrieved. Sources close to the matter told AFP that Indonesia's Arema Malang submitted its forms on 9 February to the Indonesian Football Association, which then failed to forward them to the AFC.

Similarly, Thailand's Provincial Electricity Authority claim to have given their forms to the Football Association of Thailand on 12 February but they were not passed on until 14 February. The club, in a letter seen by AFP, is asking the AFC to reconsider its decision. PEA head coach Prapol Pongpanich also complained to the Bangkok Post that the "reason that the AFC has disqualified our team from the competition is not the way to improve the development of football in Asia. If we are wrong they should punish us by fining our team. We may ask for compensation of 20-30 million baht because we have been preparing for the tournament for a long time and have used a lot of money."

Likewise Tobacco team manager Pakpoom Kiatsrichart said his club is "very disappointed'' and hopes "to hear a good news from the FAT soon."

However, a senior official at the FAT told the Bangkok Post that the two Thai clubs had nobody to blame but themselves. "We have to respect the AFC regulations concerning this," said the spokesman. "The two teams knew the deadline but they were late and they thought they could do it later on. PEA sent us, and the AFC, a list of players but they only sent a piece of paper with a list of names. They should have sent a full list of names with passport numbers, dates of birth and photos. It is not the FAT's fault but we have sent a letter to the AFC to try and reverse the decision."

The AFC Champions League kicks off on 8 March 2006. Ironically the finals, to be held in 2007, will be hosted by four South East Asian countries - Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia and Vietnam - two of which no longer have any clubs to qualify.

See also: AFC president again calls for club professionalism (22 Feb) and Program promotes 'business of football' in ASEAN (14 Feb)