Football clubs around the world including Brunei Darussalam typically challenge for major trophies on all fronts in both the domestic and continental scenes.
While domestic dominance represents the ultimate quest for any top football club, it is undeniable that the glory and prestige of a continental competition serve as the aspirations of every club and player.
Nevertheless, a domestic or cup title will not be enough to earn a spot in the premier continental competition as a club needs to obtain a particular licence which needs to be approved by a confederation.
In Brunei’s context, a club must gain an Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Club Licensing System to get AFC approval to join any of their sanctioned tournaments, which include the AFC Champions League and the AFC Cup.
The AFC Champions League is the premier continental competition in Asia with league winners of the major Asian leagues commonly seen as the participating teams, whereas the AFC Cup is a second-tier competition.
Last year, Indera SC made history as the first club to represent the Sultanate in the AFC Cup after gaining the AFC Club Licensing status.
This year, four clubs – DPMM FC, Indera SC, Kasuka FC and Kota Ranger FC – have obtained the licensing and will be eligible to make their mark in an Asian-level tournament, provided a slot is awarded to them.
The AFC Club Licensing essentially covers five main criteria: sporting, infrastructure, personnel and administrative, legal and finance.
“The Club Licensing is a process of which one club has to follow to become eligible for participation in a certain competition. It has to meet a certain criteria issued by the organiser of the competition, which include AFC and also the member association, which is the National Football Association of Brunei Darussalam (NFABD),” said NFABD Club Licensing Manager Abdul Hamiz bin Haji Sahari.
He added, “There are two types of licences: the AFC and the National Licence.
“The National Licence is only for local competitions where teams are eligible to play in the local league while the AFC Licensing is for clubs to play in international AFC competitions.”
He said the expectations and standards set by AFC are much higher and stricter than the National Licensing system.
The National Licensing consists of the same criteria as the AFC licence but it is mandatory for the latter to complete all the information listed in the criteria. For example, AFC will need to have an ‘A’ licensed head coach but for national licensing, the minimum requirement will be of a lower qualification.
The system usually opens on April 1 where clubs can start to fill in details contained in the sporting criteria. Clubs are required to complete the sporting criteria within a month. Sporting criteria involves information such as head coach, assistant coach, fitness coach as well as physiotherapist and doctor.
Abdul Hamiz said, “The club will have to provide certificates or letters of appointment. For example as a doctor, they will need to be approved by the government.
“For national, it is lower and there are fewer requirements to obtain the licence.”
For the infrastructure criteria, the club must have a homeground. Since Brunei clubs do not have homegrounds, all of the clubs have listed the Hassanal Bolkiah National Stadium as the main facility.
“We provide them a letter to declare that the neutral ground is the Hassanal Bolkiah National Stadium,” he said.
Abdul Hamiz said all clubs will be sending the information to the system, adding that clubs can still make changes or additions as long as they do not exceed the submission date.
“If the timeline is still open, I can refresh and they can upload one more time. But once the timeline shuts – for example the sporting (criteria) which is April 1 – then they will no longer be able to upload it.”
Abdul Hamiz shared that they granted the licence with accordance to their First Instance Body (FIB) members.
“We have two members: the FIB and the Appeal Body. The FIB is the one that grants or rejects a licence.
“If the club is rejected, they can appeal for the licence where the Appeal Body comes in to check if they are eligible to accept or reject.”
Fourteen clubs, mainly from the Brunei Super League (BSL) – the country’s highest level of league system – have applied for the club licensing this year.