Gianni Infantino, FIFA's new president, has ambitious plans. They are, however, easy to execute and may help further the goals of some of the soccer body's major sponsors.
For a start, Infantino is pledging to invest $4 billion to increase the number of football participants to 60 percent of the world's population, from the current 45 percent. Guess what: He doesn't have to spend the money. More Chinese kicking a ball around could get him to his target in one move.
Coincidentally, that would fit well with the strategy of Wang Jianlin, China's second-richest man, whose Dalian Wanda Group in March became the first major sponsor of FIFA since a criminal corruption scandal overwhelmed the organization and led to the ouster of longtime president Joseph “Sepp” Blatter. Jack Ma, the nation's richest man, followed suit in courting the federation.
When he announced his cash injection into the soccer authority, Wang said that having multiple sponsors “will help China bid to host the World Cup."
That remains to be seen, but another of the aims Infantino laid out on Friday may at least help the world's most populous nation return to the World Cup, in which it participated just once, without winning any games. The new president plans to increase the number of teams in the event to 48 from the current 32.
Ranked 78 by FIFA, China still has to work on its national team to reach the World Cup, even with the greater number of participants. But from a statistical perspective, a 50 percent increase in the number of available seats increases the odds that the nation makes it.
That's just what Xi Jinping needed. The avowed soccer fan has declared football a national priority and harbors an ambition to see the country host and win the World Cup. Naturally, it makes sense for people in the private sector to help him get there.
The China team's recent losses to Syria (really) and Uzbekistan indicate that the only way is up. As FIFA continues to grapple with the fallout from the corruption scandal, it needs supporters with deep pockets such as those in China. This is the start of a long friendship.
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