Domestic football season to kick off on September 8

Saleh al Farsi (centre) and Shabib al Hosni (second from left) at a press briefing to announce the details of the forthcoming domestic season

Despite the title sponsor, Omantel, yet to formally renew its partnership with the Oman Football Association (OFA) following the completion of its three-year deal this summer, the schedule for the coming domestic season - which kicks off with the traditional curtain-raiser, the Super Cup, on September 8 - was announced on Sunday. 

Saleh al Farsi, the OFA's second vice-chairman, and Shabib al Hosni, CEO of the Oman Professional League (OPL), unveiled the season's new programme on Sunday, with the OPL set to begin on September 17.

Defending OPL champion Fanja will take on His Majesty's Cup winner Saham in the Super Cup on September 8. The first half of the OPL season will be held from September 17-December 2.

It will be followed by a break in the OPL as Muscat is scheduled to host the CISM (International Military Sports Council) Football World Cup from January 13-29. The second half of the OPL will be played from the first week of February to May 14, while the season will conclude with the final of the HM's Cup on May19 or May 20.

Farsi said that the qualifiers for the HM's Cup will begin in October while the round of 32 will be played from November. The Mazda Professional Cup, meanwhile, will begin in October.

Spotlight on AFC licensing system

Farsi said the top priority in the new season is being given to the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Club Licensing System, with the OFA's board and all the clubs agreeing to the timeline within which the OPL clubs will meet the licensing requirements ahead of the 2017-18 season.

“Clubs will not be allowed to compete in the 2017-18 OPL if they don't meet the requirements and this has been agreed upon by the top-flight clubs,” said Farsi.

The AFC licensing system is also open to first-division clubs and in case an OPL club fail to meet the desired criteria, it would be replaced by a first-division club that has adhered to the system.

Mohammed Saifuddin Abu Bakar, the OPL's technical consultant, said that Fanja, Saham and OPL runner-up Al Suwaiq will have to meet the AFC licensing standards by the end of October.

With Oman currently ranked among the top-seven nations in terms of club rankings, it may get a club to feature in the prestigious Asian Champions League playoff or even a direct spot in the AFC Cup.

Abu Bakar also said, “All the OPL clubs will have to field three teams from now on - U18, U15 and U13, while the U19 and U22 teams will be merged to compete in the inaugural Reserve League that will start in October. A total of 20 teams from the OPL and the first division have agreed to play in the Reserve League.”

It will be mandatory for all the OPL clubs to have five players in the first team who are born on or after January 1, 1996, said Abu Bakar.

What is AFC Club Licensing System?

It is a double-edged tool designed to develop football clubs and also to benchmark them. The AFC Club Licensing Regulations is the basic document incorporating the Asian body's minimum requirements, which should be met by clubs in their bid to participate in the AFC Champions League.

The system spells out standards and procedures based on which the clubs will be assessed. The licensing system comprises five criteria - sports, infrastructure, personnel and administrative, legal and financial.

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