The Japan Football Association on Monday withdrew its candidacy to host the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup, making the joint Australia-New Zealand bid a prohibitive favorite over Colombia to land women’s soccer’s most prestigious tournament.

The decision came just three days before a scheduled June 25 vote by the FIFA Council following a campaign that formally began in March 2019 and featured as many as nine interested countries, including a unified Korean bid that never came into fruition.

“We’ve discussed this multiple times as a board this month ahead of today’s decision,” JFA Chairman Kozo Tashima told an online news conference on Monday evening. “Everyone involved in the bid is very disappointed but they've all supported this decision.

“I hope everyone understands that we’ve made this decision for the benefit of women’s soccer around the world, and that our fans will continue to support Nadeshiko Japan and the many women’s club teams in the country.”

The unexpected move comes just over one week after FIFA released its bid evaluations, scoring Australia-New Zealand highest out of five points with 4.1, followed by Japan at 3.9 and Colombia at 2.8.

While Japan’s bid mostly drew praise for its logistical details including soccer-specific stadiums in seven of eight proposed host cities, the JFA’s request to reschedule the World Cup from FIFA’s preferred July-August period to earlier in the summer, avoiding the worst of Japan’s notoriously humid climate, did not appear to impress assessors at the sport’s governing body.

Tashima praised the substance of Japan’s bid on Monday, revealing that despite positive responses from officials in Europe and North America, the bid committee sensed a change in the wind after the postponement of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics to the summer 2021 — a move which increased the possibility of the world’s two marquee women’s tournaments taking place in the same country within a two-year period.

“Because the Olympics and World Cup women’s tournaments have the same teams (in contrast to the men’s under-23 tournament at the Olympics), there was concern over whether hosting the women’s tournament twice in two years would be perceived negatively,” said Tashima.

A JFA statement signed by Tashima noted that neither Colombia nor Australia or New Zealand have hosted a senior-level FIFA tournament, writing that the two remaining bids “would have the advantage of being able to promote the spread of the women’s game by hosting the first Women’s World Cup in South America or the Southern Hemisphere.”

A FIFA spokesperson confirmed the receipt of a letter from the JFA withdrawing its bid, telling The Japan Times that the organization "would like to thank JFA for their participation in the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023 bidding process, their excellent cooperation and strong commitment towards women’s football. We fully share JFA’s view on the game and will work hard to stage a magnificent FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023 in cooperation with the host(s)."

The announcement is a large blow to the JFA’s planned “hop-skip-jump” strategy — consisting of Tokyo 2020, the formation of the country’s first professional women’s league and the 2023 Women’s World Cup — for building the momentum of women’s soccer in Japan.

But Tashima reaffirmed the JFA’s commitment to growing women's soccer at the grassroots level, noting that 2022 will feature the first under-16 women’s tournament at the national athletic meet. He emphasized that the decision to withdraw would benefit the recently christened WE League, which will begin play in September 2021 as the country's new top women's league.

“(Withdrawing from consideration) will allow us to focus on our priority of making next year’s Tokyo Olympics and the WE League a success,” Tashima said. We want to continue focusing our efforts to promote grassroots women’s soccer. We want to succeed next year at the Olympics, create a WE League that girls will want to join as players, and then win the World Cup again.”

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