By Paul Nicholson
April 27 – Qatar is preparing a bid for the 2027 Asian Cup, the AFC’s flagship national men’s team competition, according to local sources. The bid will put the Qataris into direct competition with Saudi Arabia who have confirmed that they will be bidding for 2027.
Any thoughts that there was a thawing in the frozen relationship between Qatar and Saudi Arabia (the Saudis are leading an economic blockade of Qatar), were banished last week when the Olympic Council of Asia (OCA) announced it had received bids from Doha and Riyadh, the capital cities of the two neighbouring Gulf countries, to host the 2030 Asian Games.
The host city will be decided at the OCA General Assembly meeting in Sanya, China, on November 29 when the 45 member nations are next scheduled to meet.
“With these two bids for the 2030 Asian Games we now have stability and continuity in our sports movement for the next decade,” said Sheikh Ahmad Al-Fahad al-Sabah, president of the OCA.
“It puts us in an envious position in terms of our sports calendar and highlights again that Asia is a major partner in the global Olympic movement.”
It puts the Kuwaiti and politically powerful Olympic kingmaker Al-Sabah in the unenviable position of having to oversee what will be an acrimonious regional battle that now also looks set to return to the football hosting arena as well.
China is hosting the 2023 Asian Cup, the year after Qatar hosts the 2022 World Cup. The Asian Football Confederation (AFC) has recently extended the deadline for expression of interest to host the AFC Asian Cup 2027 to June 30, 2020.
The decision over who will host the 2027 edition will be taken by the AFC’s 30-member executive committee. That decision had been expected to be made in 2021 but that may be pushed back.
In 2019 the Asian Cup was expanded to a 24-team tournament and successfully hosted in the UAE in what was a major breakthrough for the tournament in terms of establishing itself as one of football’s major global events. China’s hosting in 2027 sees the event return to East Asia before returning to West Asia for 2027.
Qatar and Saudi are unlikely to have the bidding field to themselves. India have said that they are discussing a bid and Uzbekistan are also rumoured to be interested. Iraq had also made noises about hosting but that looks unlikely on the current bid submission timescales with the country’s football currently under the control of a FIFA-appointed Normalisation Committee.
When announcing that it was bringing the bidding for the 2027 Asian Cup forward, AFC president, Shaikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa, emphasised that future AFC Asian Cups should be given more preparation time.
“At the AFC 29th Congress in Paris, we chose the People’s Republic of China as the next hosts of the AFC Asian Cup in 2023. And I know that China PR will deliver a world class event – in keeping with the stature of the AFC Asian Cup,” said Salman.
“But China PR has just four years in which to prepare – and although they are extremely capable – I would like to allow future hosts even more time. With the expanded format, which was launched in the UAE in 2019, we have 24 teams and 51 matches and so we need eight to ten world-class stadiums.”
Qatar, having hosted the World Cup in 2022 will have the infrastructure already in place. Saudi Arabia, which is aggressively building its credentials as a destination for tourism and sport in the wake of the lead taken by their Qatari rivals, would need to build. As would India and Uzbekistan if they were to formally enter the race.
“We want our competitions to be inclusive not exclusive,” said AFC general secretary Dato Windsor John. “It is the opportunity for development and it drives our member nations to work harder. Our top nations want to close the gap on Europe and South America and our other nations want to close the gap on them. With expanded competitions we are already seeing that happen.”
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