JOHANNESBURG (AFP) - Australia have pulled out of the race to stage the 2018 World Cup and will instead target the 2022 tournament, it was announced here on Thursday.
"We have been in discussion with FIFA for months and it is that trusting relationship with the leadership of the governing body that has caused us to focus on 2022 and decide to leave the field for 2018 to European contenders," said Frank Lowy, the head of the Australian football federation (FFA).
The decision was taken after lengthy discussions between the FFA and FIFA.
Australia's decision to withdraw its candidacy leaves the Holland-Belgium, Spain-Portugal joint bids as well as the United States, England and Russia as the 2018 contenders.
For the 2022 tournament, Australia will compete with Qatar, USA, Japan and South Korea.
Australia's decision to pull out of the 2018 race, which was co-ordinated with European Executive Committee members, was welcomed by FIFA.
The body's secretary general Jerome Valcke said: "The FFA and my office as well as the FIFA President have been in constant dialogue about Australia's bidding intentions since last autumn.
"The FFA have displayed an exemplary level of solidarity with Europe and the European Bidding Nations and were among the very first to enter into an open and constructive dialogue with me after it became apparent that there was a growing movement to stage the 2018 World Cup in Europe.
"Their announcement of today, therefore, to henceforth focus solely on bidding for the 2022 World Cup is a welcome gesture that is much appreciated by FIFA's leadership and Executive Committee."
Australia's 2018 bid had already been rocked by Asian Football Confederation president Mohamed Bin Hammam's decision to Europe to host the event.
The AFC chief said that he would instead back an Asia nation to host the tournament in 2022.
"Asia's association with this World Cup is deep. We have supported Africa?s aspirations every step of the way. We have rejoiced in Africa?s success," he told an AFC Extraordinary Congress.
"And just as Africa had Asia?s full support in winning the rights to this World Cup, I want to assure Europe on behalf of AFC that we recognise and support their desire to host the 2018 edition.
"The mood inside the FIFA Executive Committee is that Europe should host the 2018 version," he added.
On Wednesday, Lowy said he was unperturbed by Bin Hammam's support for Europe.
"Who cares? So he's not supporting us for 2018 but he's supporting us for 2022," Lowy said.
"This is the AFC's choice. We are bidding for both."
Lowy had denied any suggestion that Australia would pull the pin on 2018 to concentrate on the 2022 bid.
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