China talks of bid for 2026 World Cup

2010-07-23 10:49

The four Asian countries bidding to host the 2022 World Cup already

have enough to be concerned about with demands for stadiums, hotels and

transport networks and strong contenders from other confederations. Now, they

have to worry about China.


China’s Football Association (CFA) has signalled it may bid for the

2026 World Cup, raising speculation that such a move could undermine the hopes

of Japan, South Korea, Qatar and even Australia which are in the running to host

the 2022 tournament.

The winning bids for 2018 and 2022 will be announced on December 2

with a European country expected to be chosen for the earlier of those. The

emergence of China as a contender for 2026 could work in favour of the US bid

for 2022.

Simon Chadwick, a sports marketing expert at Coventry University in

England, said: “If China throws its hat in for 2026, it blows everything wide

open for 2022 because in many ways China is arguably the last great footballing

frontier.

“From the Chinese government’s perspective, bidding for the World

Cup is an important thing. From Fifa’s perspective, there is considerable appeal

in China bidding for 2026 because I think it’s a very important marketplace. I

would argue China is much more important marketplace than the US was in

1994.”

CFA head Wei Di first hinted at a bid last week after returning

from the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, telling the country’s leading sports

newspaper, Titan Sports, that China has the venues and the rail network needed

to host a big event – something he communicated to Fifa president Sepp

Blatter.

Wei said: “Mr Blatter told me China is becoming more and more

influential and it’s an irresistible trend that China will finally host a World

Cup.”

He also came out in favour of the United States winning the 2022

bid and took aim at Qatar, over fears that an Asian winner would jeopardise

China’s chances in 2026.

Fifa rules dictate that no continent can host the World Cup twice

in a row.

Wei said: “Qatar is so hot. Even though the country is rich enough

to build venues with air conditioning system. But what’s the population of that

country? How can they fill their venues with people?”

Strict protocol prohibits candidates from discussing rival World

Cup bids ahead of the vote in December for the 2018 and 2022 editions but the

contest for countries wanting to host the 2026 World Cup isn’t even open yet, so

China isn’t bound by those guidelines.

Wei said: “I’d rather hope the US could win the bid, which means

we’ll have higher chance of success bidding for 2026. If Fifa decided to let an

Asian country host the 2022 World Cup, then China will have to wait at least

until 2030.”

Wei this week reaffirmed China’s interest in hosting the 2026

tournament during a press conference in Beijing but said, according to the Asian

Football Confederation website: “I never said I don’t want other Asian countries

not to win it in 2022.”

The talk of China bidding for 2026 World Cup brought a less than

supportive response from AFC President Mohamed Bin Hammam, a native Qatari who

was at the news conference.

Bin Hammam said the AFC is supporting the four Asian bidders for

the 2022 tournament and that he “didn’t want to jeopardise their chances.”

Reaction from the four bidders to the Chinese threat has been

mostly mixed, with only Japan acknowledging that a Chinese bid poses challenges.

Qatar and Australian football officials declined to comment.

Motoaki Inukai, chairperson of Japan’s bid and president of the

Japan Football Association, said: “I think any country has to take it seriously

when a country with so huge a population and such strong economic growth puts

itself forward as a candidate. For Fifa, China is definitely important when it

comes to the development of football.”

But South Korean officials dismissed a threat posed by China and

said its intentions will not influence Fifa delegates when they choose the 2022

World Cup host.

Han Sung-joo, chairperson of South Korea’s World Cup bidding

committee, said: “Since the Chinese haven’t even formally registered a bid yet,

I don’t think the fact that they’ve shown interest in hosting the World Cup in

2026 will weaken our chances.”

If China does manage to win the 2026 bid, it would hail a starling

turnaround for a nation that has languished in Asian football despite its

massive population and interest in the sport.

In its favour was China’s successful staging of the 2008 Beijing

Olympics, which highlighted the country’s ability to host a major event.

Its domestic league has been marred by corruption and the national

squad was knocked out of 2010 World Cup qualifying last year, failing to make

the top 10 sides in Asia.

In its only World Cup appearance, when the finals were co-hosted by

South Korea and Japan in 2002, China lost all three group games and failed to

score a goal.

Although football remains hugely popular in China, many fans have

given up on the local teams and instead closely follow the professional leagues

in England, Spain, Germany and Italy.

But there are signs that China is attempting to improve its

footballing image – to reflect is growing economic might and the passion for the

sport that has been undaunted despite its recent troubles.

Newly appointed national team coach Gao Hongbo has set

qualification for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil as a target in his quest to

revitalise the beleaguered team.

And Wei has vowed to clean up the local league and improve the

performance of the national side by scheduling more matches and improving

training techniques.

Chadwick said: “In China there is already a strong predisposition

toward football. It’s a captive audience and nobody has engaged that captive

audience. I think 2026 is the opportunity for Fifa to engage that captive

audience.”


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