FIFA scandal was China's chance, says top sponsor

Mon Mar 21, 2016 4:57am EDT
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BEIJING (Reuters) - Wang Jianlin, China's richest man, said FIFA's corruption scandal was an opportunity for big Chinese companies to further the country's lofty footballing ambitions by undertaking sponsorship deals with the global governing body.

Wang's Dalian Wanda Group, China's biggest commercial property developer and an active buyer of global entertainment and sports companies, became the first Chinese top level sponsor of FIFA last week.

At a news conference in Beijing on Monday, the 61-year-old multi-billionaire said he expected other companies to follow suit to help drive China's ambition to become a soccer superpower.

"Two or three years ago, Chinese and Asian companies probably wouldn't even have had a chance to sponsor FIFA even if we wanted to. But because some western companies dropped out, we got the opportunity," he said.

"To my knowledge, another Chinese company will become a FIFA top sponsor soon. If there are no surprises, there will be three Chinese top-level sponsors by the end of the year.

"If more Chinese brother companies become FIFA sponsors like Wanda, we will join forces to advance the interests of China soccer," he added.

Led by China's President Xi Jinping, an avid soccer fan, China has embraced the goal of shedding decades of corruption and underperformance to become a major power in the game, aiming first to host the World Cup and then ultimately win it.

The country aims to grow its sports market to 5 trillion yuan ($782 billion) by 2025, about a five-fold leap from its current size, and soccer will play a large part.

China's ambitions were highlighted in a high-profile investment, its biggest in the sport overseas, last December when a consortium led by state-backed China Media Capital took a $400 million stake in the owner of Manchester City.   Continued...

Wang Jianlin, the chairman of Dalian Wanda Group in China speaks during an event announcing strategic partnership between Wanda Group and FIFA in Beijing March 21, 2016. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj