China withdrew as the 2023 Asian Cup host because of the coronavirus as the country battles its worst outbreak since the early days of the pandemic.
The Asian Football Confederation (AFC) praised Chinese officials for making “this very difficult but necessary decision in the collective interests of the AFC Asian Cup”.
The 24-nation tournament was to be played in 10 cities in mostly newly built stadiums in June and July of next year.
China’s withdrawal on Saturday could let Qatar or Saudi Arabia step up as hosts while both are bidding in a contest to host the 2027 edition. India and Iran are also candidates for the 2027 edition with a decision expected early next year.
No new host named
The AFC did not name a new host, saying only “further steps” would be announced in due course.
Qatar has stadiums in place to host the 2022 World Cup kicking off in November. However, a June 2023 start for the Asian Cup could be unlikely because of the extreme heat in the Qatari summer, making early 2024 a better option.
The four-yearly 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 was held from January 5 to February 1.
China was to host the 2022 Asian Games in Hangzhou in September but that was postponed along with nearly all international sports events in the country.
China did host the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing though, under a strict lockdown for athletes and officials with few fans able to attend.
China is pursuing a strategy of stamping out the virus entirely, which includes rapid lockdowns and mass testing.
Its largest city Shanghai has been under a tough lockdown affecting most of its 25 million people for more than a month.