Fifa World Cup: China ‘needs to protect IP’ if it hopes to host the finals, says official tickets right holder

Larry Zheng of Shankai Sports says the country needs to crack down to realise Xi Jinping’s dream of staging the tournament

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 05 July, 2018, 10:25am
UPDATED : Thursday, 05 July, 2018, 11:12pm

Chinese authorities must do more to protect intellectual property rights if the country is serious about hosting the World Cup finals in the future, a senior executive said after thousands of fans fell victim to a ticketing scam in the lead-up to this year’s finals in Russia.

Almost 3,500 fans were sold tickets by Chinese travel agencies only to be told they were not valid just days before the competition started.

Despite notifications being sent by the Chinese embassy to followers on WeChat, more than 30 fans were reported to have been turned away from the group stage game between Argentina and Iceland at Spartak Stadium in Moscow after their tickets turned out to be counterfeit.

Larry Zheng, vice-president of Shankai Sports which holds the exclusive rights to sell World Cup hospitality packages into China on Fifa’s behalf, said this was an issue authorities must tackle if the country was serious about realising President Xi Jinping’s ambition of one day hosting the game’s greatest event.

Moves to protect the marques associated with the Olympic Games have already been made ahead of Beijing’s hosting of the Winter Olympics in 2022 and Zheng believes now is the time to do something similar to safeguard the World Cup’s status in China.

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“I would probably say the marketing guys from Fifa need to do much more in China than they do into countries like the UK,” Zheng told the South China Morning Post.

“They need to have a treaty between themselves and the Chinese government to protect their intellectual property because recently the central government in China has signed an agreement with the IOC to protect the Winter Olympic intellectual properties in relation to the official marks, logos and mascots and everything, which is a very good move.

“I think because everyone is expecting to take the World Cup to China, there’s a long journey and we need to start from scratch. To protect and respect intellectual property is the first step the Chinese government needs to work on. It’s a small step, but it would be a big move and a good move.”

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China has long struggled to deal with the topic of intellectual property theft and that issue spilled over into Russia 2018 when several Chinese travel agencies thought they had bought legitimate tickets from a Georgian company called Anzhi.

Anzhi claimed it had the official backing of the local organising committee of the World Cup and produced documentation featuring what they asserted was the signature of the body’s chief executive, Alexey Sorokin, which Zheng quickly confirmed was a forgery.

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Shankai is the only agency permitted to sell hospitality packages and tickets into the Chinese market, with fans also able to secure access to games via Fifa’s official website.

“We sent the letter to Sorokin and he came back saying it was not his signature,” says Zheng. “He signed something somewhere else and it’s easy to find his signature on Google images. His signature is everywhere.

“But obviously it’s fake because if it’s Sorokin’s signature then in Russia, like in China, it would come with an official seal, a chop. Unlike in many Western countries it needs to be chopped.

“So within two hours I got back to the embassy and said: ‘Look, this is completely fake.’ Those people trying to get tickets are unauthorised agents who want to get a high yield and to make a profit. They knew their only channel to get these tickets was Shankai, they just don’t want to get the tickets from us and they’re trying to get tickets from someone else.”

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The news prompted the Chinese embassy in Moscow to alert fans via social media that only tickets bought through official outlets would be valid for access to the stadiums.

Many fans had travelled to Russia by the time the news broke. Some were given the opportunity to buy tickets for other matches, but most were unable to access the games. The agencies responsible for selling the tickets, said Zheng, were now facing punishment.

“The embassy sent us a complete list of the requests, and most were for high demand matches,” he said. “We have to thank the embassy for telling the fans the true story, but we were only able to help a very small number.

“But in the end the embassy sent a notice to every single fan. The agencies that were involved will be condemned because it was them that had the contract with the fans. The agents are registered with the CNTA, the China National Tourism Administration, so according to their regulations there will be sanctions.”

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Zheng believes the whole issue is reflective of a need for Fifa and the Chinese authorities to do more to safeguard the rights of official licence holders and the increasing number of sponsors and commercial partners from China who have chosen to support the event.

“Although the fake ticket story is actually quite small when you look at it in the context of China and how big the country is, if you want to increase the value of the World Cup and you want to bring in more sponsors then you need to protect your assets,” he says. “Otherwise, why will people buy it?”