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Partners in distraction, Fifa needs China as much as the mainland needs it

With president Gianni Infantino proposing an increase in World Cup teams from 32 to 48, underperforming countries may reap rewards they can’t currently earn

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 22 October, 2016, 3:14pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 22 October, 2016, 9:41pm

The future is the ultimate distraction and no two groups are more in need of a distraction right now than Fifa and Chinese football.

Gianni Infantino is the president of Fifa and has been in the job now for about six months. He does not want to talk about the past. In some cases, he is not allowed to talk because of criminal investigations into his odiously corrupt organisation.

It’s all about the future for Infantino and understandably so. There is, however, one massive problem with Fifa’s future: the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.

Qatar 2022 is simply an inescapable legacy of corruption for Fifa, a millstone of malfeasance. No matter how they try to spin their mantra of change, Fifa cannot get around its past.

Despite ongoing corruption investigations concerning the awarding of the tournament, right now at least it appears Qatar 2022 will still go ahead and rest assured the chorus of global indignation will go ahead as well.

Since Infantino does not wish to talk about 2022, the future has now become the 2026 event and his announcement that Fifa is looking at increasing the field of participating countries from 32 to 48.

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But what about the much-needed internal reforms of your discredited organisation? Not today, sorry.

We are getting bigger, not smaller. Right, because as far as distractions go they don’t get much bigger than 16 more countries joining the party because if 32 is good, then 48 has to be better.

Of course, there is also the matter of greatly increasing revenue, even at the risk of decreasing the quality of the competition.

However, Infantino has assured us that many of the lesser lights of world football merely lack the opportunity to show their stuff on the biggest stage, never mind the fact that this is what the qualifying system is supposed to do.

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And just for good measure, Infantino also promised that bidding for the 2026 World Cup would be “absolutely transparent and bulletproof”. Now move along then, nothing so see here.

Nowhere was the expansion revelation more happily received than in Asia.

Despite the fact that the four teams who competed in the 2014 World Cup from the Asian Football Confederation – South Korea, Japan, Australia and Iran – all finished last in their group with a combined record of zero wins, nine losses and three draws, there is still an outcry for more Asian teams in the World Cup.

Expanding the field could also mean China might even make it into the 2026 event – meritocracy be damned.

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The same week that Infantino floated his grand distraction, China lost a 2018 World Cup qualifying match to 1-0 Syria.

Losing at home to war-torn and devastated Syria should be the ultimate indignation, and yet Chinese authorities seem to be asking for more time.

“The development of the Chinese game must be a long process,” said Chinese Football Association president Cai Zhenhua. “It’s not three years or five years, it’s not eight or 10 years.”

No, it’s actually 35 years, according to president Xi Jinping, the football mad ruler who outlined his goal to have China a world power by 2050.

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Future distractions mean a lack of accountability today for most people in power because they simply will not be around in 35 years.

In the short term, meaning 10 years’ time, it seems that China would very much like to host that expanded 2026 World Cup.

Don’t judge us on our recent results, they are saying, judge us on our potential and a large part is the growing size of our economy.

Two of the three biggest economies in the world are in Asia, so it stands to reason that if you are on the lookout for money, and Fifa always is, then there is little choice but to give Asia the 2026 World Cup – although since 2022 is in Asia, by Fifa’s (current) rules the earliest the tournament could return is in theory 2030.

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Since South Korea and Japan have already hosted the event, it’s China’s turn. But just as there is absolutely nothing in Asian football that says they deserve to have more teams competing in the World Cup, other than money there is little in China’s performance portfolio that warrants hosting this event as well.

There is even less in Fifa’s past to warrant faith in their promises. Ideally, you don’t ask for respect or time, you earn it. But in lieu of that, heady distractions once again seem to be the order of the day.