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China's fans cheer during the 2018 World Cup qualifying football match between Iran and China at the Azadi Stadium in Tehran on March 28, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / ATTA KENARE

China denies submitting official bid for World Cup 2034 – but it seems it’s only a matter of deciding what year

Rule changes at Fifa’s congress this week could see country bid for 2030 instead


The Chinese Football Association denied submitting an official bid for a “specific” World Cup, after a report swept social media in the country on Monday afternoon – but its statement suggested a bid for either the 2030 or 2034 edition of the tournament could still be in the pipeline at Fifa’s annual congress this week.

Ma Dexing, a respected China football reporter, wrote that an official bid for World Cup 2034 would be submitted this week. Under current rules, that is the earliest China can host, but there is a proposal to amend that rule on the agenda at Fifa’s meeting in Bahrain.

The CFA said on Weibo he had been “hasty” – without denying that a bid for either World Cup 2030 or ’34 was in the offing.

“Once again news of a World Cup bid hits our screens and some media friends have been a bit hasty,” the CFA post said.

“The editor [of the Weibo account] also hopes to see the World Cup at home as soon as possible,” it continued, “but strictly speaking, and to clarify to everyone, we have not made a bid for a specific World Cup and the online story ‘China Football Association to confirm their bid to host the 2034 World Cup’ is not true.”

China’s Zhang Jian, vice-president and general secretary of the CFA, was on Monday elevated to the Fifa council, the body that “sets the vision for Fifa and global football”.

Fifa President Gianni Infantino. Photo: Reuters

One of the items on the agenda in Bahrain is a proposal to change the way Fifa allocates the World Cup. At present, the rules say the same region cannot host more than once every 12 years. Since Qatar – like China part of the Asian Football Confederation – is hosting in 2022, China cannot, under current rules, host until 2034.


“In principle ... the event shall not be awarded to members of the confederations that hosted the two previous editions,” the proposed new rule says, but adds: “If circumstances so require, the Council may decide otherwise in accordance with the applicable regulations.”

Fifa Marketing Director Thierry Weil, FIFA Vice-President David Chung, the chairman of Dalian Wanda Group in China Wang Jianlin and the first vice president of the Football Association of the People's Republic of China Zhang Jian attend an event announcing strategic partnership between Wanda Group and FIFA in Beijing March 21, 2016. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj

With scandal-plagued Fifa abandoned by many of its traditional sponsors, it is easy to envisage the “circumstances” that would encourage the council to “decide otherwise” and allow China to bid for 2030.

China has declared its intention to become a “soccer superpower” over the next couple of decades with hosting the World Cup a key plank of that campaign.

Powerful conglomerate Wanda became an official partner of Fifa last year, the highest level of sponsorship, a move the company frankly admitted it hoped would strengthen China’s influence in the governing body.


Wanda owner Wang Jianlin is China’s richest man and a close associate of President Xi Jinping, who has stated that his country must qualify for, host and win the World Cup in coming years.

“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,” states an article about the deal on Wanda’s website.


Alibaba, owner of the South China Morning Post, has also been in talks with Fifa about becoming a top-tier sponsor through subsidiary AliSports.

“We are discussing with Fifa about the sponsorship issue,” Alisports’ chief Zhang Dazhong told Bloomberg last September. “What we hope is that there will be more matches to be held in China and the country can participate more to boost the Chinese football market.”

Last month, Chinese electronics manufacturer Hisense signed up to be a sponsor in the second of three sponsorship tiers.


Fifa just announced Qatar Airways as a partner through 2022 when Qatar hosts the World Cup; Wanda’s similar deal lasts until after the 2030 tournament.

Sheikh Ahmad al-Fahad al-Sabah resigned from his football positions. Photo: Reuters

China will also have a voice on Fifa’s council after Zhang Jian was elected by acclaim. There were three men including Zhang running for three places, and four women running for one other place for a woman-only place designed to boost diversity.


Sheikh Ahmad Al Fahad Al Sabah is off the ballot after the Kuwaiti Asian sports powerbroker resigned from all his football positions after being implicated in the most recent Fifa corruption scandal, that saw Richard Lai of the Guam FA plead guilty to several bribery charges.

Additional reporting: Associated Press

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: World Cup bid report ‘hasty’ but still hope for China