Eastern promise for 2030
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