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Qatar to host 2023 Asian Cup after China’s Covid pull-out

World Cup hosts Qatar will stage the 2023 Asian Cup, the Asian Football Confederation said on Monday, after China withdrew earlier this year because of Covid.

China pulled out in May because of its “zero-Covid” policy, leaving the AFC scrambling to find a new host for its flagship men’s 24-team football tournament.

The tournament had been due to be held in 10 Chinese cities from June 16 to July 16 next year.

The AFC did not say in its statement when the Asian Cup would now take place, but secretary-general Windsor John told AFP it will likely be in January 2024 because of the cooler weather in Qatar at that time of year.

South Korea and Indonesia were the other two countries in the running after China’s withdrawal, but Qatar got the nod — to the obvious displeasure of the Korea Football Association.

The AFC also said its executive committee had shortlisted India and Saudi Arabia for the 2027 Asian Cup.

“The Asian Football Confederation (AFC) executive committee has today confirmed the Qatar Football Association as the host association for the AFC Asian Cup 2023,” the Malaysia-based AFC said in a statement.

AFC president Shaikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa said Qatar is ready to put on the event despite the short lead time to prepare. It will also host the World Cup starting next month.

The AFC chief hailed Qatar’s “existing world-class infrastructure and unrivalled hosting capabilities”.

“Qatar’s capabilities and track record in hosting major international sporting events and their meticulous attention to detail are well admired throughout the globe,” he said.

“I must also commend the AFC for showcasing utmost professionalism in conducting a fair and transparent expedited bidding process and I thank all our commercial partners and sponsors for their patience during these unprecedented times.”

Qatar has come under fire from human rights groups as hosts of the World Cup over the country’s treatment of migrant workers who built the tournament’s venues. 

Qatar, however, has said it has undertaken reforms in its labour practices.

The Asian Cup is staged every four years. Qatar won the tournament’s last edition, in 2019, which was hosted by the United Arab Emirates.

Qatar hosted the 1988 and 2011 editions.

South Korean disappointment

South Korea jointly held the men’s 2002 World Cup with Japan, but has not staged the Asian Cup since 1960.

The Korean FA made clear its disappointment at missing out and took a swipe at the selection process.

“It has not been held in Korea, an Asian football powerhouse for 63 years, and in terms of rotation and regional balance, it was a reasonable order to hold it in East Asia,” the KFA said.

“Unexpectedly, however, we had to face tough competition as Qatar jumped into the bid with its abundant financial, human and material base.”

It added: “It is judged that the unconventional offensive and support of Middle Eastern countries trying to take the lead in Asian football also influenced the situation.”

Indonesia held matches at the 2007 Asian Cup along with Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam.

But earlier this month Indonesia was struck by a deadly football tragedy that has become one of the world’s worst stadium disasters, with experts raising doubts about its capability to host major international events.

The disaster in an overcrowded stadium in Malang in East Java left 132 people dead and hundreds injured.

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