China cites pandemic and withdraws as host of 2023 Asian Cup

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) — China withdrew as host of the 2023 Asian Cup soccer tournament on Saturday in the latest cancellation of the country’s sporting functions as host during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Asian Football Confederation praised Chinese football officials for making “this very difficult but necessary decision in the collective interest of the AFC Asian Cup.”

The 24-nation tournament was due to be played in 10 cities in mostly newly built stadiums in June and July next year.

China’s withdrawal could allow Qatar or Saudi Arabia to become hosts, while both are vying to host the 2027 edition. India and Iran are also candidates for the 2027 edition with a decision expected early next year.

Qatar has stadiums ready to host the 2022 World Cup which will start in November. However, a June 2023 start for the Asian Cup could be unlikely due to Qatar’s extreme summer heat, making early 2024 a better option.

The quadrennial Asian Cup is traditionally played in January and February. Qatar (2011) and Australia (2015) hosted the tournament when it was played in January, while the 2019 event in the United Arab Emirates took place from January 5 to February 1.

China was due to host the 2022 Asian Games in Hangzhou in September, but that was postponed along with nearly all international sporting events in the country. China has hosted the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, albeit under a strict lockdown for athletes and officials with few fans able to attend.

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