Coronavirus: China pulls out of hosting 2023 AFC Asian Cup over Covid-19 concerns, new venue to be confirmed soon
- Tournament involving 24 teams was expected to be held between June 16 and July 16 in 10 Chinese cities
- But officials say China told them they would not be able to host the competition
Next year’s AFC Asian Cup has become the latest tournament to fall foul of the ongoing Covid-19 outbreak in mainland China, with officials announcing on Saturday that it would be moved to a different country.
In a statement, the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) said their Chinese counterparts had told them they “would not be able to host the tournament”. A new host would be confirmed soon, it added.
China was awarded hosting rights in 2019 and the 24-team competition was scheduled to be held across 10 cities between June 16 and July 16 2023.
The loss of the event follows hard on the heels of the Chinese decision to postpone the University World Games, the Asian Games and the Youth Asian Games, all of which it was expected to host this year.
Local organisers said they could not “pledge at this moment to hold next year’s Asian Cup competition under a fully open model”.
“After negotiations between the AFC, the Chinese Football Association (CFA) and the Local Organising Committee (LOC), a joint decision has been made to remove the 2023 Asian Cup from China to a new host which is to be confirmed soon,” the Chinese Organising Committee said in a statement.
“The Organising Committee hereby expresses sincere gratitude to the AFC, all host cities and the whole society for their great support during the tournament’s preparations.”
In contrast to most other countries, which are now adopting policies of living with the virus, China is pursuing a strategy of stamping it out entirely, an approach which includes rapid lockdowns and mass testing.
But that is not conducive to large sporting occasions, and with the exception of this year’s Winter Olympics – held in a virus-secure, closed-loop Beijing bubble in February – China has cancelled or postponed almost all events since the virus emerged in late 2019.
Responding to China’s decision, the AFC said it understood the “exceptional circumstances” the country found itself in as it battled the latest Covid-19 outbreak.
“The AFC appreciates that China, the CFA and the LOC have made this very difficult but necessary decision in the collective interests of the competition, which has also provided the AFC the required time to assess the situation regarding the hosting of the AFC Asian Cup 2023.”
The Asian Cup is staged every four years, and it would have been the second time that China had hosted the tournament. It was held on the mainland in 2004, when the hosts lost 3-1 to Japan in the final.
Hong Kong’s qualifying campaign for the tournament begins next month in India, when Jorn Andersen’s side will play the hosts, Afghanistan and Cambodia for a spot in next year’s competition.
The Hong Kong coach said Saturday’s decision “would have no effect” on his team’s preparations for the qualifiers
“If China don’t want to or can’t have this tournament next year, that’s OK,” he said. “This year, they have stopped the EAFF final – they gave it to Japan – they postponed the Asian Games to next year, and now they stopped next year’s AFC Asian Cup.
“For us, the first step is to try as good as possible to qualify, it’s difficult enough with this team without our best players, but we will try our best and we’ll see. Where the final will be played at the moment doesn’t matter, if we have to we’ll play in another country.”
Additional reporting by Andrew McNicol