June 22, 2020 / 10:20 AM / 19 days ago

UPDATE 2-Soccer-Japan withdrawing 2023 Women's World Cup bid

* JFA officially withdraws bid

* Japan says will support Aus/NZ bid

* FIFA to make official decision Thursday (Updates with JFA confirmation)

By Jack Tarrant

TOKYO, June 22 (Reuters) - The Japanese Football Association announced on Monday that Japan is withdrawing its bid to host the 2023 Women's World Cup, just days before football's world governing body holds a vote to determine the successful candidate.

Following an executive board meeting on Monday, the JFA withdrew its candidacy and decided to support the Australia/New Zealand bid which will go up against a bid from Colombia.

Earlier this month, FIFA rated the joint Australia/New Zealand bid as the best to host the tournament, with Japan in second place.

The JFA said a key factor behind their decision was losing the support of the Southeast Asian ASEAN Football Federation (AFF), who have publicly said they would support the Australia/New Zealand bid.

With the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games now being delayed until next year due to the coronavirus pandemic, the JFA said they found it unlikely one country would be awarded women's soccer's two biggest tournaments back-to-back.

JFA chairman Kozo Tashima left the door open for another bid in the future.

"We have shown how we could host the tournament in Japan in our bid, so I don't think our efforts were in vain," he said.

Japan's withdrawal leaves the Australia/New Zealand bid in pole position ahead of Thursday's vote.

Like Australia, Japan is a member of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) so it is likely that AFC votes previously shared between the competing bids will now go to Australia/New Zealand.

Japan has never staged the Women's World Cup but co-hosted the men's event in 2002 with neighbours South Korea.

The Japanese women's team won the World Cup in 2011, shocking favourites the United States in the final.

The 2019 tournament in France broke records in terms of television audiences and was seen as the most high-profile edition so far. (Reporting by Jack Tarrant; additional reporting by Ian Ransom; Editing by Toby Chopra/Peter Rutherford/Christian Radnedge)

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