China has withdrawn from hosting the 2023 Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Asia Cup, possibly indicating that the country’s rigorous zero-Covid policy would remain in place for some time.
The quadrennial event, which will include 24 teams from around the continent, is set to take place in ten Chinese cities in June and July of next year.
“The AFC acknowledges the exceptional circumstances caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, which led to the relinquishment by China of its hosting rights,” the confederation said in a statement Saturday, adding the decision was “difficult but necessary.”
The Covid strategy of largely closed borders, abrupt lockdowns, mass testing, and quarantine appeared incompatible with organising a large-scale sporting event with thousands of foreign visitors.
China’s Asia Cup organising committee confirmed its intention to withdraw on Saturday, citing Covid issues as the reason it “cannot undertake at this time to hold next year’s Asian Cup competition under a completely open model.”
The competition was scheduled to showcase a new soccer stadium in Shanghai, which has been under lockdown for seven weeks because to the country’s current pandemic. Throughout April, inhabitants of the financial capital who were stranded at home reported being unable to obtain food, medicine, or other necessities.
According to CNN, at least 31 Chinese cities are now under full or partial lockdown, affecting up to 182 million people.
China’s departure is all the more painful because the country has spent years – and tens of millions of dollars – trying to improve its soccer programme. That became a national priority following the humiliation of 2002, the only time China qualified for the FIFA World Cup but failed to score even a single goal.
In 2016, China revealed a plan to transform the country into a global “soccer powerhouse,” with grandiose ambitions such as building 20,000 soccer schools and 70,000 soccer fields.
The AFC stated that a new host for the event would be announced soon.
“This is quite an unusual situation and so there’s no specific process that we are aware of on how things could go,” a spokesperson for the Korean Football Association (KFA) told Reuters.
“We just know that China has given up.”
“Basically, to host an international game …. firstly, there should be talks with the government and the local authorities, but we haven’t heard or held any discussions on that yet,”