• AFP-Jiji

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Asian soccer’s governing body said player welfare was its “main priority” after criticism from the global players’ union that it had been slow to provide enough support since the coronavirus shutdown.

FIFPro general secretary Jonas Baer-Hoffmann last week said the Asian Football Confederation’s engagement had been “lacking severely,” adding that player welfare problems threatened to undo Asia’s progress in the sport.

But the AFC defended its response to the Covid-19 crisis. “The Asian Football Confederation put the welfare and the well-being of the players — and all our stakeholders — as our main priority throughout the pandemic,” it told AFP in a statement.

The AFC “provided support for clubs and leagues through the member associations and regional associations,” it added.

“Our competitions were the first to be postponed in the world and that was to protect the health of all those who were to be involved in those matches.”

Baer-Hoffmann highlighted the problems faced by players in Indonesia, saying a “unilateral decision” by clubs to slash wages by three-quarters had caused “quite severe hardship.”

“We would have liked to see (the AFC) involved in some of these really drastic negative situations on the domestic level,” Baer-Hoffmann told AFP.

He added: “We would very much expect that the confederation sets a certain standard, in terms of embracing collective decision-making, in terms of embracing the standards that we are working under on the deeper level. And that’s certainly not happening.”

Like many sports bodies, the AFC has suffered severe difficulty running its competitions this year. The suspended Champions League has resumed in a biosecure “bubble” in Qatar, while the second-tier AFC Cup has been canceled and World Cup qualifiers are on hold.

“Our focus has been on the safe resumption of our AFC competitions in a biosecure environment as well as promoting the restart, where safe and appropriate, of the leagues in our member associations,” the AFC said.

The Kuala Lumpur-based body said it also took part in FIFA discussions leading up to the approval of up to $1.5 billion in grants and loans for national football associations around the world.

FIFPro, headquartered in the Netherlands, represents tens of thousands of soccer players worldwide via 65 national player associations, including eight in the Asia-Pacific region.

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