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Qatar may tackle Asian Cup as replacement host for China

Qatar, the reigning champions, would have the infrastructure to host the Asian Cup thanks to this year's World Cup Creative Commons
Qatar, the reigning champions, would have the infrastructure to host the Asian Cup thanks to this year's World Cup

The 2023 Asian Cup could be shifting west to the Gulf, where new infrastructure has made the region a magnet for international tournaments, after China withdrew as host.

China had planned to hold the Asian Cup across 10 cities in June-July next year, but has dropped the 24-team tournament because of “exceptional circumstances caused by the coronavirus pandemic”, the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) said over the weekend.

The AFC said it would name a new host in due course, but declined to comment further.

The general secretary of the All India Football Federation, Kushal Das said India, which held the 2022 women’s Asian Cup, was focusing on its bid for the 2027 men’s tournament and was not interested in stepping in for 2023.

Reigning Asian Cup champions Qatar, Iran and Saudi Arabia have also expressed an interest in or submitted bids for 2027.

Qatar hosts the 2022 World Cup from November 21 at a raft of purpose-built stadiums and may be best placed to slot in for next year’s Asian Cup.

Qatar, which hosted the 1988 and 2011 Asian Cup, has ambitions of becoming a global sporting hub – backed by its emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani and underpinned by its gas wealth.

The 2023 opportunity may come too soon for Saudi Arabia, which has made an aggressive entry into the international sport hosting market in recent years. The Saudi bid for 2027 included the construction of three new stadiums and expansion of three existing venues.

The region’s searing summers would mean both Qatar and Saudi Arabia would need to ask the AFC to move the tournament to cooler months later in the year or in early 2024.

If few clear alternatives emerge, the AFC would likely prove accommodating to such a request, sending the tournament back to the Gulf four years after the 2019 edition in the United Arab Emirates.

AFC member nations were in the dark yesterday about the next steps.

“This is quite an unusual situation and so there’s no specific process that we are aware of on how things could go,” said a spokesperson for the Korean Football Association. “We just know that China has given up.”

The AFC has little time to appraise candidates and may not have a diverse set to choose from.

Football Australia declined to comment on whether it would offer to replace China, but referred to its busy calendar in 2023 as co-hosts of the Women’s World Cup with New Zealand, which starts on July 20.

South Korea, which originally lost out on its 2023 bid to China, had no comment on hosting but said it would require further consultation with home authorities.

“Basically, to host an international game … firstly there should be talks with the government and the local authorities, but we haven’t heard or held any discussions on that yet,” the Korean FA spokesperson said.