China cites coronavirus and withdraws as 2023 Football Asian Cup host

China: Due to a recent outbreak of coronavirus, China has withdrawn as the 2023 Asian Cup host, according to football officials, with Beijing’s strict zero-COVID-19 strategy inflicting another blow to the country’s athletic ambitions.

Authorities in China are pursuing a comprehensive approach to eradicate the virus, which involves mass testing and rapid lockdowns, and millions of people in Shanghai have been subjected to onerous restrictions for more than a month.

However, as most nations adapt to living under COVID-19, the measures have made hosting sporting events a major challenge.

The Asian Games, which were scheduled to take place in Hangzhou in September, had already been postponed earlier this month, and the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) announced on Saturday that China will not host the Asian Cup.

The AFC had been warned by Chinese football officials that they would not be able to host the 24-team competition, which was scheduled to take place in ten locations in June and July of next year.

“The AFC believes the unusual circumstances caused by the COVID-19 pandemic led to the relinquishment by (China) of its hosting rights,” the governing body said.

It added that those involved in organizing the tournament had made “this tough but necessary decision in the collective interests of the” tournament.

Every four years, the Asian Cup is held. In 2019, Qatar won the previous edition. The Asian Cup would have been held in China for the second time. They hosted it in 2004 but lost 3-1 in the final against Japan.

The loss of major sporting events is a setback for China’s governing Communist Party, which had established a worldwide image through a series of spectacular events such as the 2008 Summer and 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing.

With the exception of this year’s Winter Olympics, which were staged in a virus-free, closed-loop Beijing bubble in February, the world’s most populous country has cancelled or postponed practically all activities since COVID-19 was discovered in Wuhan in late 2019.

Zurab Kvaratskhelia

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