Fifa insist deal with Chinese group is 'right thing'

ZURICH • Fifa president Gianni Infantino faced awkward questions on Friday after announcing a sponsorship agreement with a Chinese conglomerate linked to his disgraced predecessor, Sepp Blatter.

Infantino, who was elected last month as the football governing body's first new president since 1998, chaired his first and last executive committee meeting last week as Fifa presses ahead with reforms designed to repair its tarnished image.

Fifa announced the Wanda Group, China's largest commercial property company and the world's largest cinema chain operator, had become a sponsor for the next four World Cups, up to and including the 2030 tournament.

The group's chairman, Wang Jianlin, is reportedly China's richest man, while Blatter's nephew Philippe Blatter is president and chief executive of the subsidiary companies, Wanda Sports Holding and Infront Sports & Media.

Infantino said the terms of the deal were commercially sensitive, but it is likely to be worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

The Swiss insisted Fifa was conscious of the need to ensure all contracts were above board.

"I'm very well aware of the potential situations that can exist when you have partners who may have subsidiaries," Infantino said.

"In these circumstances it's even more important to do the right thing and make sure the contracts we've signed are compliant with the highest standards.

"Fifa has undergone a process which makes Fifa oversensitive to these elements and making sure all the compliance requirements are fulfilled when we sign commercial agreements."

Wanda Group also part-owns Atletico Madrid, the Spanish side who have been sanctioned by Fifa for signing under-age players. Atletico are contesting the ban.

Infantino played down the potential for conflict.

"We have to make a clear distinction here between two things that have nothing to do with each other," he said.

"One thing is a commercial partnership. The other side is the sports disciplinary side which is an independent side which is dealt with by the relevant Fifa bodies.

"These are two independent things and I'm happy these two things can be kept separate."

Infantino was asked about the potential for China to host a future World Cup, with the bidding process for the 2026 tournament to be discussed in May at Fifa's congress in Mexico City.

He said: "China is first and foremost a football country. It is also an economic powerhouse, this is clear.

"When it comes to the organisation of a World Cup, we'll have to look into the bidding process for 2026 and then onwards. We'll see how and what the conditions will be, but the more countries can bid for the World Cup, the better it is."

THE GUARDIAN, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on March 20, 2016, with the headline 'Fifa insist deal with Chinese group is 'right thing''. Print Edition | Subscribe