KEIR RADNEDGE in PARIS: A route map will be created later this year for 2030 World Cup bidding and it may well be a happy Chinese coincidence that the FIFA Council meeting is in Shanghai in late October.
Gianni Infantino followed up his re-election as president of the world football federation by reviewing the steps to select the host to follow Qatar in 2022 and the United States, Canada plus Mexico in 2026.
The outlook is not a positive one for the prospective bid from the United Kingdom and Republic of Ireland or a co-hosting proposal from the South American quartet of Uruguay, Argentina, Chile and Paraguay.
Instead, China is back in the game.
The recent convention has been that rotation prohibits bidding from confederations which have hosted the previous two tournaments. Qatar’s staging in 2022 would rule out another Asian bid in 2030 but the rules have not been laid down.
Indeed, Asian officials have suggested in the past that the western and eastern regions should be considered as separate entities.
Infantino refused to speculate when asked about the 2030 process, saying: “We will discuss it in the coming months including at FIFA Council in China in Shanghai. We will put down some markers down regarding timing. The next FIFA election congress will be in 2023 so the World Cup decision could be in 2022 or 2024. For me, the more bidders we have the better.”
FIFA has made no secret of a wish to bring China on board and the Chinese state, under the leadership of football fan Xi Jinping, has ‘legitimised the game after sorting out once-endemic corruption.
Not only are Chinese companies investing heavily in foreign sponsorships and ownerships but FIFA has particular reason to be grateful to them.
The e-commerce giant Alibaba was the first big new sponsor to show its faith by signing up with FIFA in the wake of the 2015 corruption scandal. Subsequently the Wanda Group properties giant came on board while last year’s World Cup partners included TV and fridge maker Hisense, smartphone developer Vivo, and dairy firm Mengniu.
China is also thought to be a leading contender to host the first expanded FIFA Club World Cup with 24 teams in 2021.
European federation UEFA, protective about its own lucrative Champions League, has expressed concern about the tournament but is not expected to maintain its opposition for long.
FIFA is understood already to have brought a number of major clubs onside and Infantino confirmed ongoing discussions to smooth out concerns. He said: “Of course the European clubs will take part and we are discussing details with UEFA and ECA.”
Infantino sidestepped a press conference question about the turmoil within the European game over proposals to alter the Champions League structure to provide a permanent presence for the big clubs.
He said: “I am not aware of the UEFA proposal yet. I have only read some articles. I used to work for UEFA [as general secretary] but it is not the role of the FIFA president to decide what is good or bad for UEFA.
“I want to globalise football and our strategy is not to create an elite but open up the world of football.”
UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin is understood to have invited ECA representatives – two of whom sit on his executive committee – to a face-to-face meeting in September.