China to host expanded Club World Cup in 2021

FIFA has awarded the inaugural edition of its expanded 24-team Club World Cup to China, the association's president Gianni Infantino said October 24 in what he called a "historic decision". (Photo by HECTOR RETAMAL / AFP)

China will host the inaugural edition of the expanded 24-team Club World Cup, FIFA president Gianni Infantino said on Thursday, hailing it as a "historic decision".

FIFA's choice underlines China's growing clout in football and could be a precursor to the country eventually hosting the World Cup proper.

Infantino made the announcement after a meeting in Shanghai of the FIFA Council, the decision-making unit of football's world governing body.

It will mean many of the biggest club teams -- including eight from Europe -- descending on China in June-July 2021.

Infantino confirmed that China, which has made football a national priority under President Xi Jinping, had been the only candidate.

"It is a historic decision for football," he said.

"It will be a competition which every person, every child and everyone who loves football is looking forward to."

The FIFA chief said in June that his new Club World Cup could generate as much as $50 billion in commercial income, although he did not state how many editions that would cover and a source told AFP the figure was "scarcely credible".

The current Club World Cup features seven teams including the holders of the UEFA Champions League. Qatar will host the competition this year and in 2020.

The Gulf state will use the two tournaments as logistical tests for stadiums and infrastructure ahead of the 2022 edition of the World Cup, FIFA's flagship international competition.

The plan for a revamped Club World Cup -- "a childhood dream", said Infantino -- was approved at a FIFA Council meeting in Miami in March despite opposition from UEFA and the powerful European Club Association.

It will take place every four years and replaces the Confederations Cup, an international competition that acted as a test event for countries hosting a World Cup.

FIFA also will double the funding allocated for women's football to $1 billion over the next four years after the Council rubber-stamped plans already announced by Infantino.

"The Council decided to put 500 million in addition to the 500 million already budgeted," he said.

Since the Women's World Cup in France in the summer, "women's football has moved to the next level, we need to work on that, build on that", said Infantino.

China, the world's second-biggest economy, is becoming increasingly influential in football under Xi, a known fan of the game. He and Infantino met last week.

Xi and his communist government's stated aim is for the country of 1.4 billion to host and eventually win a World Cup.

A bid for the 2030 World Cup has long been mooted.

Mark Dreyer, a Beijing-based expert on China's sports industry, said that the country has a proven track record in staging major sporting events and views a World Cup as the ultimate aim.

But Dreyer, founder of the China Sports Insider website, added: "I worry from China's perspective whether the other competing bids (for 2030) will use this (hosting the Club World Cup) against China and say they already have something from FIFA and have rewarded the country for its financial support, so give the World Cup to someone else."

Infantino largely dodged questions that could be raised over China's human rights record as a result of the Club World Cup decision.

He was also asked by AFP whether players coming to China may have to self-censor after the US National Basketball Association was hit by a Chinese backlash over comments by a Houston Rockets team executive who expressed support for Hong Kong protesters resisting Chinese control.

"Everyone can say what they want," he said.

"As far as we are concerned, we are trying to use football as a catalyst for positive, and never for negative."

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