Saudi Arabia has been confirmed as the host nation of the 2027 Asian Cup, the region’s premier national teams’ soccer tournament.
The Kingdom was officially awarded hosting rights for the first time at a meeting of the Asian Football Confederation’s (AFC) executive committee in Manama, Bahrain, where its annual congress took place yesterday (February 1).
The congress also saw Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa retain his role as the AFC’s president, for a final four-year term until 2027.
The 2027 Asian Cup announcement was expected, with Saudi Arabia having been the only hosting candidate for the tournament in five years’ time. Sheikh Salman's re-election also comes as no surprise given he was standing unopposed.
An Indian bid to put on the 2027 Asian Cup was withdrawn in early December, leaving the Saudi submission as the sole option.
The AFC said at that point that the latter bid would be the only one presented to this congress.
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Both countries had been initially placed on a hosting shortlist for the event in October.
The news comes with Saudi Arabia reportedly lining up a submission to stage the FIFA World Cup in 2030, alongside Greece and Egypt.
The Middle East country, which has been accused at length over recent years of using the hosting of such high-profile events to sportswash its chequered human rights record, has won the Asian Cup three times in its history, most recently in 1996.
The 2023 edition will take place in Qatar from 16 June to 16 July, with the last edition of the tournament having also been staged in the Middle East, in the United Arab Emirates in 2019.
On securing the 2027 Asian Cup, Yasser Al Misehal, president of the Saudi Arabian Football Federation, said: “We want to thank all AFC member associations for their trust and hope to justify their choice by delivering the most memorable edition of this flagship competition.
"We look forward to welcoming fans from across the continent to experience our passion for the beautiful game, in addition to the diverse cultures and cities our beautiful country has to offer.”
Sheikh Salman, a Bahrain royal family member, took over the AFC presidency in 2013, at which point he completed the final two years of a cycle originally meant for Mohammed bin Hammam, who was deposed at that point.
By the time the 57-year-old's last term ends in 2027, he will have been in charge of Asian soccer’s governing body for 14 years. Limits on how long the AFC president can be in charge mean he will not be able to run for the position again.
Salman said: “I’d like to thank you all for placing your faith in me for another four-year term. It really humbles me … to have all the trust of the AFC. I hope I can live up to your expectations in the next four years.”
After winning the presidential election a decade ago, he was then returned unopposed in 2015 and 2019.
In 2015, meanwhile, he ran unsuccessfully against Gianni Infantino to become the president of global soccer’s governing body FIFA.
Sheikh Salman initially became known in soccer’s governance circles in 2019, when he lost a close vote to Bin Hammam for a seat on a FIFA decision-making body.
Bin Hammam was deposed as AFC president in 2013 after being banned for life by FIFA, for involvement in significant corruption.
Image: Richard Heathcote/Getty Images