Asian football panel approves strategic reforms; clubs can now sign six foreign players in all

The Competitions Committee of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) on Friday approved several game-changing reforms for club competitions with an increased foreign players quota, financial regulations and a new three-tier format for competitions that will include relegation and promotion.

“In perhaps the most significant reforms to be introduced since the enhancements to the AFC Champions League in 2009, amongst the recommendations include the introduction of new competition formats, lifting the foreign player quota and increasing the financial distribution for participating clubs,” the AFC said in a release on Friday.

Clubs across the region can now recruit five foreign players of any nationality and one from an AFC member country (5+1) instead of the three of any nationality and one from the AFC region that was allowed earlier. The new quota will come into effect after the 2023-24 season.

“In another breakthrough decision aimed at enhancing the quality and stature of the AFC Club Competitions, the Committee also agreed to recognise each MA’s domestic regulations on the foreign player registration and remove the foreign player registration quota from the 2024/25 season onwards,” the AFC informed.

As per the current rules, all decisions by the Competitions Committee will have to be ratified by the AFC Executive Committee before taking effect.

The AFC panel has also approved a three-tier competition for the Continent’s 76 participating clubs. The clubs will be classified under two heads — West and East — instead of the five zones earlier.

“The top tier will comprise 24 participating clubs in total, divided into 12 teams across the West and East regions competing in a league format. Each club will play four home and four away matches against eight different clubs within its region, with the top eight sides from both regions – 16 in total – advancing to the Round of 16 stages, which will be played in a home and away format,” the AFC said.

The second tier of Asian club football will see 32 participating clubs divided into eight groups of four teams each. The clubs will face off home and away in a round-robin format in the Group Stage, with the top two sides advancing to the Round of 16 and the subsequent rounds of quarterfinals, semifinals and final.

Tier 3 will comprise 20 participating clubs divided into five groups. The clubs will compete in single-leg ties to be played in a centralised format with the top eight sides qualifying for the Quarter Finals.

“The strategic reforms also pave the way for more opportunities for participating clubs from different zones to compete against each other as the competitions transition from its current five zone format to the East and West regions,” said the release.

The losing teams from the Preliminary and Playoff stages of the top tier will be allowed to participate in the second tier, and likewise, the losing teams from the Preliminary and Playoff stages of the second tier competition will participate in the third tier.

“As a result of the revamp, the total number of club football matches are expected to increase from a minimum of 274 to 287,” the release added.

The AFC also introduced a new calculation methodology for club competition ranking and slot allocation. The rankings will be calculated based on all results of the clubs over an eight-year period.

“Further details on the strategic reforms, including the competition titles of the three tiers, match scheduling principles, calendar and regulations will be finalised and communicated in due course,” the AFC said in its release.

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