Qatar to stage 2023 Asian Cup, most likely in early 2024

KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 17 (Reuters) - Qatar will stage the next Asian Cup in place of original hosts China, the Asian Confederation (AFC) announced on Monday, with the tournament likely to be moved from mid-2023 to early 2024 to avoid the heat of the Gulf summer.

The continental championships were awarded to China in 2019 but the world's most populous country relinquished the rights this year as it pursued a zero-COVID policy.

The AFC reopened the bidding process and Qatar, which will host the World Cup finals from next month, was preferred to bids from South Korea and Indonesia at an executive committee meeting on Monday.

"Qatar's capabilities and track record in hosting major international sporting events and their meticulous attention to detail are well admired throughout the globe," AFC President Shaikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa said in a statement.

"With their existing world-class infrastructure and unrivalled hosting capabilities, we are confident that Qatar will stage a worthy spectacle befitting the prestige and stature of Asia's crown jewel."

The Qatar Football Association (QFA) has proposed that the 24-team tournament be shifted from its original dates in June and July next year to run for a month from Jan. 24, 2024, its spokesman, Ali Al Salat, told Reuters.

The Gulf Arab state has staged the Asian Cup twice before, in 1988 and 2011, and it won the last tournament, in the United Arab Emirates, in 2019. The Asian Cup is held every four years.

The gas-rich nation has built seven stadiums and upgraded another around the capital Doha to host the 32-team World Cup finals in November and December. The QFA is proposing all eight be used for the Asian Cup, Al Salat said.

South Korea had been favourites to be awarded the hosting rights as the country had not staged the finals since 1960, when they won the second of their two Asian titles.

The Korean Football Association (KFA) apologised for the failure of its bid and suggested the financial muscle of the Gulf nation had been decisive.

"We thought that we had no problem in hosting the event," the KFA said in a statement.

"But we had to face fierce competition as Qatar jumped into the race with rich financial, human and material resources."

Indonesia had been considered outsiders because of its lack of stadium infrastructure, even more so after more than 130 people were killed in a stampede at a match at Kanjuruhan stadium in East Java province on Oct. 1.

The AFC said the executive meeting had opened with the offer of "heartfelt condolences" to the Indonesian FA "as well as the families and loved ones of the precious lives lost".

Qatar was also one of three nations bidding to stage the 2027 edition of the Asian Cup after Iran and Uzbekistan withdrew expressions of interest.

The AFC executive committee on Monday shortlisted the bids from India and Saudi Arabia for that tournament with a final decision to be made at their next meeting in February.

Reporting by Nick Mulvenney in Sydney, additional reporting by Andrew Mills in Doha, Joori Roh in Seoul and Michael Church in Singapore, editing by Peter Rutherford

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