Big firms muscle in as China aims to host Finals

BEIJING • Chinese companies are proving to be big players in the world of football, signing sponsorship deals with Fifa as the giant Asian nation looks to boost its chances of hosting the World Cup.

In the space of a year, Fifa has gained three major Chinese sponsors in conglomerate Wanda, Hisense - the world's No. 3 television manufacturer - and smartphone maker Vivo, which concluded a deal just a week ago.

The new partnerships came as a welcome relief to football's world governing body, after its 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 all declined to renew their sponsorship deals, leaving Fifa struggling to find new backers.

Get The Straits Times
newsletters in your inbox

The Vivo deal comes 18 months after e-commerce world leader Alibaba signed a partnership with the Fifa Club World Cup, lending further ammunition to those who believe China will bid for the 2030 World Cup.

When Wanda became a Fifa sponsor at the beginning of last year, chief executive Wang Jianlin said the tie-up "would increase the chances" of a Chinese World Cup.

Next year's World Cup is in Russia, which is part of Uefa, and the 2022 Finals 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.

However, not everyone shares China's enthusiasm to play host at the first opportunity.

Last week, Uefa president Aleksander Ceferin told the BBC that "the World Cup should go to the country that has the best bid" and not "the ones who pay the most", adding that he favoured a European host for 2030.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 08, 2017, with the headline 'Big firms muscle in as China aims to host Finals'. Print Edition | Subscribe