China is keen on hosting the FIFA World Cup. Hosts for the 2018 and 2022 editions are fixed. The 2026 edition is ruled out for an Asian nation on technical ground following Qatar’s successful 2022 bid. Does the 82nd ranked FIFA nation stand any realistic chance to get the opportunity in 2030? On what merit?
Yes will be the answer. On sheer money power, that is pulling FIFA and global soccer out of a threatened financial mess. In the space of a year, football governing body FIFA has gained three major Chinese sponsors in conglomerate Wanda, Hisense – the world’s number three television manufacturer – and smartphone maker Vivo, who concluded a deal just a week ago.
Earlier, e-commerce world leader Alibaba had signed a partnership with the FIFA Club World Cup. The deal then had given a boost to the speculation that China will bid for the 2030 Fifa World Cup.
The new partnerships come as a welcome relief to football’s governing body after FIFA’s image and reputation was battered in recent years by a slew of corruption allegations involving former president Sepp Blatter. Sony, Emirates, Castrol, Continental and Johnson & Johnson had all declined to renew their sponsorship deals, leaving FIFA struggling to find new backers.
When Wanda became a sponsor of FIFA at the beginning of 2016, its chief Wang Jianlin, known to have Beijing’s ear, said the partnership “would increase the chances” of a Chinese World Cup.
The industry experts in China are convinced that the Chinese sponsors arrival will promote and accelerate a Chinese bid to host the FIFA World Cup, which will be backed strongly by the Chinese President Xi Jinping, a devoted football fan.
Next year’s World Cup is in Russia, who are part of UEFA, and 2022 will be in Qatar, part of the Asian Football Confederation, making China ineligible to be a host until at least 2030 under FIFA rules that stipulate tournaments must alternate between continents.
Chinese Football Association Vice President Zhang Jian, a member of the FIFA Council which devises the institution’s global strategy, said last year he would back a Chinese World Cup in 2030.
However, not everyone shares China’s enthusiasm to play host at the first opportunity.
UEFA President Aleksander Ceferin has recently told the BBC that “the World Cup should go to the country that has the best bid”, adding that he favoured a European host for 2030. “We cannot just sell the World Cup to the ones who want to pay the most… Rules cannot change just because we have some big sponsors,” he added.
Sebastian Chiappero, Geneva-based director of sponsor consulting firm Sponsorize, does not believe there is a link between sponsorship and World Cup hosts. “Sponsors are primarily interested in promoting their products and they do not in theory have any influence over who hosts the World Cup. Otherwise the United States would have hosted it many times thanks to McDonald’s and Coca-Cola,” Chiappero was quoted as saying by the AFP. “FIFA rules prevent any conflict of interest. In practice, we don’t know what is going on behind the scenes.”
However, it is difficult to dismiss the possibility of a Chinese World Cup, says Marcus Luer, CEO of Total Sports Asia, a Singapore-based sports marketing agency. “The voting process and internal workings of FIFA are very complex and not always that transparent. It (Chinese sponsorship) will help to show that China is eager to host the World Cup and has companies to support that effort,” he explains.
China stands a good chance to bag the 2021 FIFA Confederations Cup after Qatar was forced to withdraw over difficult playing conditions in its boiling summer heat.
According to Luer, China would be “a perfect country to host a future World Cup”, noting its passion for the game, its decent facilities, the support the tournament would receive from the government and its experience in hosting world-class events, such as the 2008 Beijing Olympics. “China will host a FIFA World Cup,” said Luer. “It’ a matter of when not if.”