Australia Certain of at Least One Asian Cup Bid

Australia is confident of launching at least one bid for upcoming Asian Cups, but its hopes of hosting the 2023 men’s tournament rest on the appetite for a summer schedule, the country’s soccer chief said on Wednesday.

Australia, South Korea, Indonesia and Qatar have submitted expressions of interest to replace China as hosts of the 2023 Asian Cup, which was scheduled for June and July next year. Australia has also expressed interest in the 2026 women’s Asian Cup as it seeks more international competition on home soil. The candidates must submit 2023 bid documents by August, with the host to be confirmed in October, the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) said this week.

Australia, which held a successful men’s Asian Cup in 2015 in its home summer, wants the 2023 tournament pushed back to a January-February slot in 2024, because the country has a crammed schedule as co-host of next year’s women’s soccer World Cup in July-August.

“It’s purely down to the calendar. July and August next year, the stadium availability and the focus of the organisation delivering competition is on the Women’s World Cup, so that is the priority,” Football Australia (FA) boss James Johnson told Reuters. “It wouldn’t be logistically possible for Australia to host the Asian Cup” around that period.

The AFC has not indicated its preferred scheduling either way, but Australia is unlikely to be alone in seeking to push the tournament back, said Johnson, with Qatar’s scalding summer heat a barrier for hosting in mid-2023.

“If you want to create atmosphere and a lot of interest with fans around the tournament, which these tournaments do, then it is difficult to play a tournament in Qatar during that period,” said Johnson. “So it does probably play on the decision-makers’ minds. It would only keep, I would assume, Qatar in the race if it’s January-February, but, having said that, Indonesia and South Korea would be fine to host with their climates at those times.”

Even if the AFC is conducive to shifting the tournament, FA said it would need government to back its bid, given the “significant” funding and support required to host. Johnson said FA had flagged its interest with the Australian federal government but needed to do more in coming weeks and months to secure its commitment.

“They’re obviously a new government and one that I think is very focused on relations in the Asia-Pacific,” said Johnson. The Labor administration won office in May. “These sorts of tournaments go well beyond the sporting field … and I think that’s something the federal government might look fondly on.”

With Australia unable to host international soccer for nearly two years in 2020-21 because of COVID-19, FA is keen for more national team content to keep the ball rolling after the Women’s World Cup. Australia is on the front foot in expressing interest in hosting the 2026 women’s Asian Cup, with no rival candidates yet to emerge.

If interest in the 2023 men’s Asian Cup comes to nothing, Australia is likely to compete hard for the women’s tournament, Johnson suggested. “We have a much longer runway without the calendar issues we do on the men’s side,” he said. “I’m sure we’ll have a bid for at least one of those two competitions.”

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