BEIJING — Chinese conglomerate Wanda says becoming a top-tier sponsor leaves it "better placed" to help decide where future editions of the World Cup will be staged.
With Chinese leaders expressing a desire to host the event, Wanda’s statement appears to offer further insight into the company’s decision to sign on as the first new top-tier sponsor for world football’s governing body since 2013.
"As a partner of FIFA, Wanda will be better placed to play a role in the bidding process to host major football events such as the World Cup, closing the gap on international football and enabling Chinese football to have a say in international football," Wanda said in an undated news release issued in the wake of Friday’s signing of the agreement with FIFA.
Chinese leaders from President Xi Jinping down say they want to add the World Cup to the list of major sporting events the country has hosted or is planning to host, including the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing and the upcoming 2022 Winter Olympics.
Property and cinema giant Dalian Wanda Group’s partnership with FIFA runs through the 2030 World Cup, for which China is considered likely to bid. Wanda has been moving aggressively into sports promotion in recent years, buying Swiss firm Infront Sports & Media, Tampa, Fla.-based World Triathlon Corp. and acquiring a 20 per cent stake in Spanish football team Atletico Madrid.
The value of the top-tier FIFA partnership was not disclosed but is likely to top hundreds of millions of dollars. The firm’s Wanda Sports Holding subsidiary is led by Philippe Blatter, a nephew of Sepp Blatter, who was forced out as FIFA president by a corruption crisis.
Despite massive government support and major spending on foreign talent by Chinese clubs, China has had only limited success in international football. The national team has qualified for just one World Cup, the 2002 tournament in South Korea and Japan, where it was bounced out in the group stage with three losses.
The awarding of hosting rights to the World Cup has come under increasing scrutiny in recent years with various investigations into tournaments dating back to 2006.
The 2018 and 2022 bidding contests are under scrutiny by Switzerland’s attorney general, and American federal prosecutors’ wider probe of corruption in FIFA business that includes World Cup bids.