The Asian Football Confederation (AFC), soccer’s governing body in the region, has announced that China has pulled out of hosting duties for the 2023 Asian Cup national teams tournament due to ongoing concerns over the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Chinese Football Association (CFA) informed the AFC of its decision on Saturday (May 14) citing the “exceptional circumstances” caused by the global health crisis.

China was named as the host nation of the 2023 Asian Cup in 2019 and was due to stage the 24-team competition across 10 cities.

The AFC had worked closely with the CFA and the local organizing committee (LOC) during the preparations, which included the unveiling of the newly-completed Shanghai Pudong Football Stadium last year.

In a statement, the continental body said: “The AFC appreciates that China, the CFA, and the AFC Asian Cup China 2023 LOC have made this very difficult but necessary decision in the collective interests of the tournament, which has also provided the AFC the required time to assess the situation regarding the hosting of the Asian Cup.

“The AFC will continue to work closely with its commercial partners and stakeholders to chart the course forward and remains grateful to them for their understanding and support during this period.

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“Further details about the next steps related to the hosting of the AFC Asian Cup 2023 will be announced in due course.”

The Asian Cup was last staged in the United Arab Emirates in 2019.