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China cites pandemic and withdraws as host of 2023 Asian Cup

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KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) — China pulled out as host of the 2023 Asian Soccer Cup on Saturday in the country’s latest cancellation of sports hosting duties during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Asian Football Confederation praised Chinese football officials for taking “this very difficult but necessary decision in the collective interest of the AFC Asian Cup”.

The 24-nation tournament was due to be played in 10 cities in mostly newly built stadiums in June and July next year.

China’s withdrawal could allow Qatar or Saudi Arabia to become hosts as the two bid in a competition to host the 2027 edition. India and Iran are also bidders for the 2027 edition with a decision expected early next year.

Qatar has set up stadiums to host the kick off of the 2022 World Cup in November. However, an Asian Cup start in June 2023 might be unlikely due to the extreme heat of the Qatari summer, making early 2024 a better option.

The quadrennial Asian Cup is traditionally played in January and February. Qatar (2011) and Australia (2015) hosted the tournament when it was played in January, while the 2019 event in the United Arab Emirates took place from January 5 to February 1.

Qatar are the defending champions after beating Japan 3-1 in the 2019 final to win the country’s first major football title.

China was supposed to host the 2022 Asian Games in Hangzhou in September, but that was postponed along with almost all international sporting events in the country. China hosted the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, but under a strict lockdown for athletes and officials with few fans able to attend.

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