OFC’s Executive Committee has agreed to reshape the tournament calendar for the rest of the year and the start of 2021.
The committee approved a number of changes during their online conference last week that will impact this year’s OFC Champions League, various youth tournaments and the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Qualifiers.
The ongoing COVID-19 situation means borders throughout the Pacific remain closed or have extremely limited access. There are also restrictions on large gatherings and a lack of available flights to some areas of our region.
Government-enforced quarantine periods for travellers adds another layer of complexity regarding the possibility of arranging tournaments that involve international travel.
OFC will now submit a proposal to FIFA for the rescheduled World Cup qualifiers that would see teams begin their path to the global tournament in March 2021.
Under the proposal, OFC’s 11 Member Associations would be split into two groups based on their FIFA ranking and would play matches in the March and June International Match Calendar windows. Each group would be based in a central location.
The top two teams from each group would advance to the semi-finals in September before the final in October. The semi-finals and final would be played under a home-and-away format.
The winner would go on to represent OFC in the Intercontinental Playoff in June 2022 with a spot at the FIFA World Cup in Qatar on the line.
The qualifiers were meant to get underway in August of this year but were postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic.
This year’s OFC Champions League has been restructured with a single-location tournament to take place and host the knockout matches, pending borders reopening and travel restrictions within the Pacific loosening.
The OFC Champions League group stages took place in February and March, leaving eight teams vying for the title and a place at the FIFA Club World Cup in Qatar in December.
The proposed single-location tournament would take place across 12 days and feature the quarter-finals, semi-finals and final.
A further decision regarding the Champions League, including when and where a potential finals tournament would take place, will be made by the Executive Committee on August 31.
The men’s OFC U-19 Championship will now be played in Samoa in January.
The event was set to be held in October after being moved from its original date of July. The top two teams from this tournament will attend the FIFA U-20 World Cup in Indonesia in 2021.
The men’s OFC U-16 Championship in Fiji has been postponed until April 2021; the event was scheduled for September of this year. The top two teams will advance to the FIFA U-17 World Cup in Peru.
This year’s OFC Futsal Champions League that was due to be played in December has been cancelled.
The Women’s Youth Development Tournament 2020, originally scheduled for May, has also been cancelled.
Looking ahead to next year, the Executive Committee confirmed that Tahiti would host the OFC Beach Soccer Nations Cup in January and the OFC U-16 Women’s Championship 2021 in September.
OFC General Secretary Franck Castillo said these postponements and cancellations were the only option given the ongoing challenges of the coronavirus pandemic.
“We look forward to international football returning in our region when it is logistically possible,” Castillo said.
“We will be ready to roll out our competitions when border restrictions are lifted and we can do our best to ensure the health and safety of our football community.”
In March, OFC suspended their football activities throughout the Pacific due to coronavirus and later cancelled the OFC Nations Cup 2020 that was due to be played in New Zealand in June.