As it currently stands, there is a good chance that the Wellington Phoenix will finish the season in an Asian Champions League (ACL) qualification position on the A-League ladder. There’s also a good chance that the Wellington Phoenix Premiers (aka the WeeNix) will finish in an Oceania Champions League (OCL) qualification position on the ASB Premiership ladder, New Zealand’s premier domestic competition. However, the club cannot qualify for either competition, making it the only professional club in the world that has no qualification pathway towards the FIFA Club World Cup via a continental champions league style tournament.
Part of the deal for the Wellington Phoenix to enter the A-League was that they would not be able to qualify for the ACL, as they are based outside the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) in New Zealand. This makes the situation more complicated than Swansea City (based in Wales), playing in the English Premier League and able to qualify for the UEFA Champions League through their participation in that league, as England and Wales are both in the same confederation. Swansea played in European competition after winning the Capital One Cup in 2013. This restriction on the Phoenix has remained in place in the 8 years since, despite members of the Phoenix ownership group expressing concerns about the arrangement.
On the face of it, it makes sense for the Phoenix to not be able to compete in the ACL, as they are not a club based in Asia. In addition, if the Phoenix were to qualify for the ACL, the foreign player rule of the ACL where all teams are allowed 3 foreign players as well as an additional Asian foreign player would cause issues for both the AFC and the Phoenix. The New Zealand players that make up a large portion of the squad at the Phoenix would be classed as imports in the ACL, so the AFC would either need to change the rules of the league to allow the Nix to compete in it, or the Phoenix would be forced to compete without the core of their team being eligible.
Most fans of the Phoenix have accepted that they will not be allowed to compete in the Asian Champions League, as they are based in Oceania. It would make much more sense for the Phoenix to compete in the Oceania Champions League. However, the Phoenix are not allowed to enter the OCL, due to the fact that they play in an Australian league. As the Phoenix are the only professional side based in Oceania, they would dominate the Champions League and realistically only face resistance from other New Zealand sides who have qualified.
The Oceania situation has been muddied even further this season, as New Zealand Football (NZF) has allowed the Phoenix to enter a reserve team into the ASB Premiership. To circumvent the issue of the professional Phoenix players not being able to take part in the amateur ASB Premiership, NZF have allowed the WeeNix to include up to 4 of their professional players in a match day squad, with the option for the opposition to agree to an extra 2 professional players, bringing the total up to 6. As part of the agreement for the Phoenix to enter the league, the Phoenix forfeited the right to be able to qualify for the Oceania Champions League, even if the WeeNix qualify for it by finishing first in the league or winning the finals series.
FIFA, AFC and OFC shouldn’t be able to have it both ways. Either the Phoenix should be classed as an Australian side and be eligible for the ACL, or they should be classed as an Oceanic side, and have either the A-League squad or the ASB Premiership squad eligible to qualify for the OCL. As it stands, the Phoenix have been shafted by both confederations, and the issue is going to come to the fore as both sides are performing well enough in their respective league to finish in a place that would usually have gained qualification for the continental tournaments.
Most supporters of the Phoenix have accepted that they won’t be able to qualify for the ACL, have accepted that they won’t be able to quality for the OCL, and begrudgingly accepted that the WeeNix won’t be able to qualify either. It’s time for FIFA to step in and make a ruling that allows the Phoenix to play in a continental Champions League, like every other professional football side in the world playing in a FIFA sanctioned league.