Japan withdraws Club World Cup hosting rights amid COVID-19 worries

The Japan Football Association (JFA) has decided to forgo its hosting rights to the 2021 FIFA Club World Cup due to fears over the spread of COVID-19.

The Kyodo News agency, citing sources close to the matter, said the JFA made the decision amid concerns it would struggle to make a profit on the tournament due to the ongoing COVID-19 restrictions in the country.

The JFA confirmed the decision after talks with FIFA, world football’s governing body over the matter. FIFA in December announced that its Club World Cup would return to Japan, with 2021 set to have two editions of the tournament due to the effects of COVID-19 on the global football calendar.

The FIFA Council decided that a Club World Cup, in the current format with seven teams, be organised for late 2021 and the hosting rights for this competition were awarded to Japan. The Club World Cup has previously been staged in Japan from 2005 to 2008, 2011 to 2012, and 2015 to 2016.

FIFA in November elected to move last year’s tournament in Qatar to February 4-11. This was due to the disruption caused to the continental club competitions that act as a pathway to the Club World Cup.

The semi-finals and final of this year’s event were due to take place at Yokohama Stadium (pictured). Capacity crowds of over 60,000 for these games were expected to lead to the Club World Cup returning a profit for the JFA, however COVID-19 restrictions would have resulted in an operating loss for a body which has seen its profit for 2020 fall by JPY5bn (£33m/€38.4m/$45.4m) from 2019 to JPY15bn.

Having no fans at national team matches has forced the federation to “dip into their savings” this financial year. This is unrepeatable, JFA president Kozo Tashima said, according to Kyodo. “Unless we forge a path to where events can be staged in coexistence with the virus, soccer as well as other sports won’t be able to maintain themselves,” a senior JFA official added.

Kyodo said FIFA is believed to be undecided over a backup host or dates, with this year’s Club World Cup potentially having to be pushed back until early 2022. FIFA told the AFP news agency: “Details of the next FIFA Club World Cup will be confirmed in due course.”

Image: WAKA77/Edited for size