Matildas' fears led qualifiers move push

Matlidas skipper Sam Kerr has praised the decison to move Olympic qualifiers from China to Australia
Matlidas skipper Sam Kerr has praised the decison to move Olympic qualifiers from China to Australia

Matildas players' fears over health risks of travelling to China drove Football Federation Australia's push to have Olympic qualifiers relocated.

Australian officials are rushing to organise after being handing the hosting role for Asian qualifying Group B, which includes the Matildas, starting next week, after China withdrew as hosts due to the coronavirus outbreak.

The move comes days after the matches were initially relocated from the outbreak epicentre in Wuhan to Nanjing.

FFA chief executive James Johnson said the increasing number of cases in China made it unfeasible for the tournament to go ahead as planned in the Asian nation.

More than 2000 cases of coronavirus have been confirmed worldwide, most in China, while 56 people have died.

"As the virus has become a bigger problem, our voice and our position has got louder and firmer that we don't want our girls going to China at this point in time," Johnson said.

"The players and the coaching staff have naturally raised some concerns about going to China and we have been proactive in listening to the players and trying to react to what is important to them."

As well as China, Australia's group also includes Taiwan and Thailand.

Johnson said concerns from those other nations had helped convince authorities to move the tournament.

"I think that logic has prevailed and certainly the Chinese Football Association, who are obviously not going to host the tournament, have been very cooperative in understanding this was the right direction to go."

The move was quickly lauded by several Matildas players on social media, with captain Sam Kerr among those to thank authorities.

"Thanks to everyone @FFA for putting the teams safety first & getting this done in such a short time frame. Thoughts are with China!," Kerr posted on Twitter.

Johnson said the plan is to hold double-headers on February 3, 6 and 9, as originally scheduled, with venues in Sydney to be confirmed within days.

"We're working around the clock at the moment and within the next 24-36 hours we'll be able to confirm those venues," he said.

"It's going to be very soon. It has to be."

Hosting the tournament before home fans is sure to boost the Matildas' hopes of joining the Olyroos in Tokyo.

The top two sides from Group B progress to home and away playoffs with the top two teams from Group A for Asia's final two places at the Tokyo Olympic Games.

Japan have already qualified as hosts while Group A will be played in South Korea with the hosts facing Myanmar, North Korea and Vietnam.

"We want to be an organisation that puts football at the heart of everything we do," Johnson said.

"What better way could we do that (than) by bringing this qualifier to Australia? Bringing our Matildas home for three matches and giving Australia the opportunity to see our favourite national team play three more matches than what was currently on the schedule?

"We think it's good for the Matildas in terms of their exposure. We think it's good for women's football development and we think it's good for football development in general."

Australian Associated Press