By Paul Nicholson
May 31 – The Asian Football Confederation (AFC) has set a June 30 deadline for member federations to declare interest in picking up the hosting of the Asian Cup 2023 vacated by China last month.
China informed the AFC that it was pulling out of the hosting of the 2023 competition just 14 months before the kick off, saying that issues surrounding the Covid pandemic had become insurmountable.
The Asian Cup is the blue riband event in the AFC’s competition calendar and was successfully expanded to 24 teams in 2019, hosted in the UAE. China was well advanced with its 2023 preparations including the launch of competition branding and the unveiling of the newly completed Shanghai Pudong Football Stadium last year.
However, the Chinese pull out left the AFC in a precarious position requiring emergency action. The AFC Congress earlier this month mandated the AFC Administration to define the terms of an expedited bidding process to find a new host. The Expression of Interest invitation is the first formal notification of this, but informally talks have already been held with member associations who could, or have a desire to, host the Asian Cup.
Ideally the AFC would like the Asian Cup to alternate every four years between the AFC’s East and West regions. China’s hosting would have kept that process going. However, pulling out at short notice leaves only a few nations with the capability and facilities to pull off the Asian Cup at the required level and with government backing.
The obvious replacement candidates to keep the principle of rotation would be Japan or South Korea in the East zone. While in the West zone, Qatar look like a readymade replacement and will have hosted the World Cup at the end of this year. Saudi Arabia also have hosting ambition and are building infrastructure.
Qatar and Saudi Arabia are bidding to host the Asian Cup in 2027, as are India and Iran. To go to one of those nations for 2023 would mean the Asian Cup would be hosted in the West zone for three consecutive editions.
Japan would be a strong alternative host in the East of the AFC’s region and told Insideworldfootball on the sidelines of the Champions League final in Paris that they were discussing internally whether they could pick up the hosting. Japanese FA chairman Kozo Tashima confirmed that the country wanted to host major football events and that they were also interested in the expanded Club World Cup when FIFA put that competition back together again.
“It’s one year before the (Asian Cup 2023) tournament, so it’s not easy to host 24 teams,” Tashima told Insideworldfootball.
“We now discuss the AFC requirements in our federation. With just one year, we [would] have a lot of things to do. It would be an honour to stage the Asian Cup in Japan. Soon, we would like the organize a big tournament.”
The road to selecting a new host for 2023 is necessarily a fast one. Once the AFC Administration has received bids and conducted its own feasibility studies it will then present a report and recommendations to the AFC Executive Committee who will then select the new host.
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