East­ern prom­ise for 2030

World Soccer - - The World -

A wind of change is blow­ing through Asian foot­ball. Maybe not fast enough for some peo­ple’s lik­ing, but blow­ing all the same.

Once upon a time Qatar’s prospec­tive host­ing of the World Cup in 2022 was seen as a stan­dard­bearer for a takeover of the game by the fab­u­lously rich mix­ture of Sheikhs, Emirs and their as­sorted royal fam­i­lies.

Now it looks as if the op­po­site may be the case; that Qatar 2022 will, in­stead, mark an end to the rule of the Gulf. Of course, the Emi­ratis and Qataris may con­tinue to in­vest in west­ern Euro­pean clubs, TV channels and broad­cast­ing rights, but the power game is shift­ing to the Far East.

A hint was of­fered af­ter the elec­tions to FIFA Coun­cil from the Asian con­fed­er­a­tion’s congress on the eve of the world fed­er­a­tion’s own gath­er­ing in Bahrain. Newly elected Chung Mong-gyu sug­gested that the 2030 World Cup could be staged by his own South Korea along with China and Ja­pan.

He also threw in the prospect of North Korea sign­ing up, but that was manda­tory for do­mes­tic con­sump­tion.

Chung, a cousin of banned for­mer FIFA vice-pres­i­dent Chung Mong-joon, said: “If South Korea, China, and Ja­pan de­cide to stage the World Cup it can be re­ally ap­peal­ing to oth­ers in terms of fi­nan­cial con­di­tions. We have a very at­trac­tive foot­ball mar­ket.”

At the mo­ment an Asian World Cup in 2030 would be un­ten­able if the ro­ta­tion rules ap­ply­ing to 2026 re­main in place. Th­ese bar a re­gion which has hosted ei­ther of the past two tour­na­ments from bid­ding again so soon. But since when has FIFA wor­ried about rules? If FIFA can scrap the guar­an­teed in­de­pen­dence of the ju­di­cial com­mit­tees at one congress, and kick ev­ery­body out at the next, then bend­ing the rules for World Cup as­sign­ment must be child’s play.

FIFA de­clared a sig­nif­i­cant loss last year of $369mil­lion, which it blamed on a change of ac­count­ing sys­tems and loss of spon­sor con­fi­dence af­ter FIFAGate. “Our fi­nances will be bet­ter than ever by 2019, af­ter the World Cup cy­cle,” promised pres­i­dent Gianni In­fantino – who needs to keep his prom­ise as 2019 is when the for­mer UEFA gen­eral-sec­re­tary comes up for re-elec­tion.

As far as 2030 is con­cerned, Uruguay has long held out hopes of host­ing a World Cup cen­te­nary in part­ner­ship with Ar­gentina and, con­sid­er­ing the 48-team ex­pan­sion, pos­si­bly Chile. But noth­ing in South Amer­ica can ri­val the fi­nan­cial clout which Chi­nese spon­sors can ex­ert. If you con­sider the pos­si­ble cash re­wards were China, Ja­pan and South Korea to pile in to­gether, it’s no con­test.

FIFA needs the money, and the ma­jor­ity who com­prise small and medium-sized fed­er­a­tions need the money, so a pres­i­dent seek­ing re­elec­tion needs the prom­ise of the money. For­get about those lit­tle Gulf states, they are short-term; it’s the other end of Asia which is hold­ing out the prom­ise of long-term se­cu­rity for FIFA and its 211 de­pen­dents.

Nor is the prospec­tive ma­noeu­vring of the World Cup and its spon­sor­ships the only straw in the Asian wind.

Now the AFC – fi­nally, af­ter last year’s mis­han­dled elec­tions – has a full com­ple­ment of del­e­gates on the FIFA Coun­cil. Con­sider the in­di­vid­u­als and their prove­nance: vice-pres­i­dent Sheikh Sal­man Bin Ibrahim Al Khal­ifa (Bahrain) and mem­bers Prince Ab­dul­lah (Malaysia), Mah­fuza Akhter

Kiron (Bangladesh), Mar­i­ano Araneta (Philip­pines), Chung Mong-gyu (South Korea), Kozo Tashima (Ja­pan) and Zhang Ji­long (China)

To clar­ify: seven rep­re­sen­ta­tives and only one now from the Gulf: AFC pres­i­dent Sheikh Sal­man. He may be feel­ing more than a lit­tle lonely.

Shortly be­fore congress Asian sport’s great­est power-bro­ker, Sheikh Ah­mad Al Fa­had Al Sabah from Kuwait, de­cided to walk away from foot­ball, in­clud­ing his FIFA Coun­cil role. The rea­son was sim­ple but damn­ing: he had been clearly iden­ti­fied as hav­ing of­fered bribes to the for­mer Guam FA pres­i­dent Richard Lai. It all came tum­bling out af­ter Lai was snagged by the United States Jus­tice Depart­ment in its FIFA Gate cor­rup­tion case. The Sheikh quickly de­nied all wrong­do­ing... but quit in any case.

A role in Sheikh Ah­mad’s hasty

The AFC has seven del­e­gates on the FIFA Coun­cil and only one now from the Gulf: AFC pres­i­dent Sheikh Sal­man. He may be feel­ing more than a lit­tle lonely...

de­par­ture may have been a de­mand from FIFA gov­er­nance chair Miguel Maduro that he un­dergo a re­newed el­i­gi­bil­ity test. Maduro was later fired by FIFA Congress, but that was more to do with his re­fusal to al­low Rus­sia’s Vi­taly Mutko to carry on rather than any­thing to do with Sheikh Ah­mad.

No one in­volved in Asian foot­ball is un­der any il­lu­sion that Sheikh Ah­mad played a de­ci­sive role in Sheikh Sal­man’s elec­tion. In­deed, Sheikh Ah­mad then wan­gled his own place on the old FIFA Ex Co. How­ever, with the pup­pet-mas­ter gone, Sheikh Sal­man may not be feel­ing quite so se­cure as the Far East be­gins to gear up.

A 48-team World Cup in China, Ja­pan and South Korea in 2030? Now that would rep­re­sent a very sig­nif­i­cant shift in the bal­ance of power.

Re­mem­ber, in 2030, you read it here first...

Fu­ture...China of­fers fi­nan­cial clout as well as pas­sion for the game

Sug­ges­tion...Chung Mong-gyu

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