The Asian Football Confederation (AFC) will allow its member associations to hold the upcoming Joint Qualifiers for the 2022 World Cup and 2023 Asian Cup in the presence of full spectators, limited spectators or without spectators amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Since the postponement of all types of matches in March following the outbreak of the coronavirus, there had been an apprehension that the AFC might instruct member associations to hold the Qualifiers behind closed doors with hopes to curb the spread of the coronavirus.
"The AFC sent the guidelines and protocols on July 31, where they mentioned holding the match in three ways -- like normal, with limited spectators or behind closed doors," Bangladesh Football Federation (BFF) competition manager Zaber Bin Taher Ansari told The Daily Star yesterday.
"The BFF has to take the highest level of health and sanitary measures if we want to hold the match like normal in presence of a full crowd. However, the AFC is encouraging us to admit only 50 per cent of the total capacity. All spectators must wear masks, maintain social distancing and hygiene inside the seating area and their temperature must be scanned before entering."
He added that the AFC also encouraged them to put only 30 to 50 per cent of tickets on sale, keep eight per cent for the visiting team and the rest reserved as complementary for stakeholders.
The AFC has also recommended dividing the stadium into nine areas to be monitored with sufficient manpower, who will ensure sanitary measures, and recommended to clear all areas.
"The stadium must be vacated and disinfected on the matchday in presence of the match commissioner before spectators, teams, match officials, supporting staffs and security personnel enter," Zaber said.
Generally, players of both teams shake hands before and after the match but this time there is no need to maintain such gestures. Even players were instructed to not shake hands with teammates. There is even no need for players to be escorted by children.
Bangladesh will host Afghanistan at the Sylhet District Stadium which had a 15,000 capacity. But the capacity has been reduced to 12,000. According to an NSC source, 8,000 seats have already been installed and the remaining seats will be installed by August. If the BFF decides to hold the match with limited spectators, they may put 3,500 tickets on sale as per instructions.
"The BFF is yet to decide because there is a huge involvement of manpower to maintain everything and, also, there is an issue of expenditure to ensure AFC match protocols. However, we are looking at the possibility of holding the match in presence of limited spectators," Zaber said.
Head coach Jamie Day believes having some spectators is better than none.
"I think any spectator is better than no one as long as it is safe for everyone involved and attending the matches," said Jamie, who believes support from the gallery depends on the number of spectators.
"I suppose supporting the team from the gallery depends on how many spectators are allowed to watch the matches. If it is only a small amount, then it won't have much of an impact on the players' performance," said Jamie.
Bangladesh will take on Afghanistan at Sylhet on October 8 before leaving for Qatar to play their sixth group match, scheduled for October 13. Bangladesh are bottom of the five-team group with one point while Qatar are group leaders with 13 points followed by Oman, Afghanistan and India on 12, 4 and 3 points respectively.