KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — With the World Cup in Qatar just weeks away, the country was selected Monday as host of the 2023 Asian Cup by the Asian Football Confederation.
Qatar beat bids from South Korea and Indonesia in a short-notice contest to replace China and host a tournament that could yet be played in 2024.
The 2023 Asian Cup is set in the FIFA-managed calendar of national-team soccer games to be played from June 16 to July 16 — when the desert heat in Qatar is so extreme that the World Cup had to be moved to November and December.
Qatar hosted the 2011 Asian Cup in January that year and now becomes the first country to host the continental championship three times after also staging the event in 1988.
The Qatari men’s team will be aiming to defend the title it won in 2019 in the United Arab Emirates.
China was originally scheduled to hold the 24-team event in 2023 but gave up hosting rights in May because of the country’s “Zero-COVID” policies to contain the COVID-19 pandemic, leaving the AFC looking for replacements.
“Given the short lead time in preparation, we know that the hard work begins immediately but with their existing world-class infrastructure and unrivaled hosting capabilities, we are confident that Qatar will stage a worthy spectacle befitting the prestige and stature of Asia’s crown jewel,” AFC President Sheik Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa said in a statement.
Qatar’s win Monday offered good news for neighboring Saudi Arabia which is bidding to host the 2027 Asian Cup, in a contest that is now a two-bid race with India.
That 2027 contest originally included Qatar and Iran, whose soccer federation withdrew its candidacy last Thursday, the AFC said. No reason was cited, although Iran has experienced a month of street protests in support of women’s rights after the death in police custody of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini,
“In the All India Football Federation and the Saudi Arabian Football Federation, we have two exemplary bids,” Sheik Salman said.
The AFC will need to seek FIFA agreement and likely a decision from the sport’s world body’s ruling Council to amend the international match calendar and find new dates for the 2023 Asian Cup.
That process could raise tension with European clubs which typically object to soccer’s continental championships being moved to their midseason from June slots.
The FIFA calendar mandates the game dates and tournament periods when clubs must release their players who have been selected for national teams.
However, fewer Europe-based players are needed for the Asian Cup than had to leave their clubs for the African Cup of Nations that was played in Cameroon in January. That tournament also was moved from an intended slot in June.
The influential European Club Association is led by a Qatari who is a close friend of the country’s Emir. The Switzerland-based club group’s chairman is Nasser al-Khelaifi, the president of Paris Saint-Germain.