Football: China to host new international football tournament

Wanda Group chairman Wang Jianlin speaking during the announcement ceremony for the China Cup, at the Sofitel Hotel in Beijing on July 13, 2016.
Wanda Group chairman Wang Jianlin speaking during the announcement ceremony for the China Cup, at the Sofitel Hotel in Beijing on July 13, 2016.PHOTO: EPA

(AFP) - China will host an annual national team football tournament starting from next year, entertainment and property conglomerate Dalian Wanda Group said on Wednesday as it seeks to build a sporting empire.

The announcement comes as Chinese companies snap up foreign players and clubs as the country increases its influence on the global game.

The Fifa-approved "China Cup" will kick off in January 2017 with a four-game tournament featuring China and three teams from Europe and the Americas, Wanda said in a statement, without identifying the non-Chinese participants.

The company expects the Cup, which Wanda says is a collaboration with the Chinese Football Association and the Asian Football Confederation, to eventually feature eight competitors from "among the world's top-ranking national A teams", the statement said.

China currently languishes in 81st place in the Fifa world rankings, just behind Zambia and Jordan, and Wanda said that Chinese fans were "eager to see their national team rise to the top".

"As the host country, China will automatically qualify to enter its national team in the tournament, gaining the opportunity to climb up Fifa ranks," Wanda added.

Wanda, headed by China's richest man, Wang Jianlin, already holds a key stake in Atletico Madrid and is a top-tier sponsor of football's scandal-hit governing body, Fifa.

Wang built a US$100 billion (S$134.8 billion) business empire founded on shopping malls, before setting his sights on building a global sports conglomerate.

A report in the Financial Times last week said the firm was in talks with European national leagues about the possibility of creating an international club competition that could potentially challenge the hugely popular Uefa Champions League.

Wanda Sports Holdings already claims to be the world's largest sports company, and has a goal of reaching an annual turnover of US$10 billion.

Wanda became a top-tier sponsor of Fifa in March, the first company to join hands with the embattled body after the departure of scandal-hit president Sepp Blatter.

Wanda holds a 20 per cent stake in Spain's Atletico, this year's Champions League runners-up, and also owns the World Triathlon Corporation, which runs the Ironman series.

The group said on Tuesday their subsidiary AMC Theatres had agreed to buy the London-based Odeon & UCI cinema group in a deal worth around US$1.2 billion, making AMC "the largest movie theatre operator in the world".