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China Digest | Fifa World Cup edges closer; Match-fixing links probed; Hoops star switches brands

Weekly round-up of sports business news from the Chinese sports industry.

China edges closer to 2030 Fifa World Cup

Speculation is rife that the Fifa Council will this week pass an amendment to the latest version of World Cup bidding rules that would allow a continental confederation to sit out just one cycle before bidding again “if circumstances so require.” This means China could potentially submit a bid to host the 2030 tournament. Fifa’s original rotation policy stated that continents could only host every third time. This was reduced to every second time, then moved back to every third time last October. This week’s rumoured amendment would keep that rule in place “in principle,” but would give the Fifa Council the power to decide otherwise should they wish.

In fact, the Chinese Football Association (CFA) has been forced to deny reports that the country is preparing to submit a bid for the 2034 World Cup after Ma Dexing, a well-known journalist at sports magazine Titan Weekly, posted online that China would stake a claim for the 2034 tournament this week. The CFA denied the story, saying that “some media friends have been a bit hasty,” but with the country long known to have designs on hosting the tournament, the real question is when, not if. That may become clearer later this week.

Meanwhile, China now has representation on the newly-expanded Fifa Council after Zhang Jian, vice-president and general secretary of the CFA, was elected unopposed to one of the AFC’s spots. It’s hardly a guarantee that China will host a World Cup, but Zhang’s accession is seen domestically as at least a step towards that ultimate goal.

Match-fixing links probed

With Chinese entities having acquired stakes in European football clubs over the past couple of years for a variety of reasons, the Mail on Sunday has revealed another possible one: match fixing. The paper reported that a stake in Irish second-tier football club Athlone Town had been sold to a party funded by a Beijing-based match-fixing syndicate, which is also understood “to have taken interests in lower-league clubs in Portugal, Latvia and Romania, where fixing is also suspected.” Athlone is being investigated by the Irish police, the Irish FA and Uefa after gamblers reportedly made about £500,000 (€593,000/$646,000) betting on the club’s recent game against Longford – more than the £425,000 thought to have been invested into the club by the Chinese syndicate. The report also highlights the fact that Athlone has seen several new faces on the playing and coaching staff following the investment, including Latvian goalkeeper Igor Labuts, who has admitted to being approached by fixers in the past – though he denies any wrongdoing – and has played for at least two other teams supported by the Beijing firm, which have been investigated for fixing.

Basketball star switches to Jordan

Chinese basketball player Guo Ailun is reportedly set to sign a deal with Nike’s Jordan brand for $1.4m per year, up from the $1.1m he was receiving annually from Chinese sportswear company Li-Ning. The 23-year-old is regarded as one of the best point guards in Asia and currently plays for the Liaoning Flying Leopards in the CBA, where he is a three-time All-Star.

Guo has played for the Chinese national team since making his debut as a 16-year-old at the 2010 Fiba World Championship and now joins NBA stars Russell Westbrook, Chris Paul and others on the Jordan roster. Previously, the CBA had a league-wide shoe deal under which all domestic players had to wear Li-Ning footwear, but that has now ended, potentially freeing Guo up to model his new Jordans on court.

Following the growth of China’s shared economy, led most obviously by car and bike-sharing firms, comes a somewhat less obvious service: shared basketballs. A company in Jiaxing, a city of 4.5 million people just to the southwest of Shanghai, has set up the first in a series of basketball rental facilities near to public courts, at which users can rent one of eight basketballs for the princely sum of RMB1.5 (17 pence) per 30 minutes, plus a deposit of RMB29 (£3.25), with the ball case also marketed as a storage locker for the duration of the game. An employee of the ball-sharing company told the Beijing Youth Daily that shared basketballs are an emerging industry. Your correspondent is less confident.

Also this week…

And some further reading…

The China Digest is written by Mark Dreyer, who runs the China Sports Insider website, which features sports business news and analysis related to China’s fast-growing sports industry. He has worked for Sky Sports, Fox Sports, AP Sports and many others, and has covered major sporting events on five continents, including three Olympic Games. He has been based in China since 2007.

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