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Fifa plans ‘major impact’ with Club World Cup in China

Real Madrid lifts the 2018 FIFA Club World Cup trophy in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates (by Francois Nel/Getty Images)

Fifa has today (Thursday) confirmed that China will become the first host of its expanded Club World Cup in 2021, stating that the revamped format will have a “major impact” financially.

Following initial reports earlier this week that China would land the hosting rights, the agreement was sealed as Fifa’s ruling Council met in Shanghai. Fifa said the tournament will be played between June and July 2021, with the final list of venues to be decided by world football’s governing body and the Chinese Football Association (CFA).

In June, Fifa awarded Qatar the rights to host the next two editions of the Club World Cup in 2019 and 2020. The gulf state will host the final two editions of the tournament in its current seven-team format before the event is expanded to 24 teams as part of the major commercial revamp.

In March, Fifa voted to approve plans to launch a 24-team Club World Cup in 2021, despite opposition from Europe’s leading clubs. Proposals to change the Club World Cup have proved controversial ever since Fifa president Gianni Infantino revealed that a group of investors were willing to pay $25bn (€22.5bn) for the rights to the expanded club competition, in addition to the rights to a new global Nations League.

The Club World Cup will now become a quadrennial competition, but Fifa today held off on deciding its format. Fifa said the participation model to determine the clubs that qualify from each confederation will be finalised in a consultation process between Fifa and the six confederations.

The Associated Press news agency said the delay is due to uncertainty surrounding the Oceania Football Confederation’s (OFC) position in the new-look tournament. The current plans mean an OFC club could only qualify through its Champions League winner defeating the domestic champion of host nation China in a playoff. The OFC is instead said to be seeking an automatic place in the Club World Cup group stage.

The AP, citing qualification procedures drawn up ahead of today’s meeting, reports that teams could qualify without having to win a regional competition, potentially at the expense of those that have. Europe will be the best represented continent in the new-look Club World Cup with eight slots. These would be filled by the Uefa Champions League and Europa League winners from 2018 to 2021. In the event of multiple winners, these slots will go to the most recent Champions League runner-up.

For the South American Football Confederation (Conmebol), only four of the six slots are said to have been determined at present. They will go to the winners of the 2019 and 2020 Copa Libertadores and Sudamericana.

The Asian Football Confederation (AFC), Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football (Concacaf) and Confederation of African Football (CAF) are currently set to receive three places apiece. In Asia, the winners of the 2019 and 2020 Asian Champions League, will qualify and the runners-up are set to have a playoff for the third entry.

The 2021 Concacaf Champions League finalists will reportedly both qualify, with the third slot still to be determined. In Africa, the 2021 CAF Champions League finalists and the winner of a playoff between the two semi-finalists will qualify.

The award of the hosting rights to China comes with Fifa placing an increasingly significant emphasis on the country. In April, Fifa signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the CFA aimed at boosting the development potential of the sport in the country.

China’s President Xi Jinping is a football fan and significant investment has been made in recent years to raise standards in the country, most noticeably in the rise to prominence of the domestic Chinese Super League.

China is expected to bid for the 2030 World Cup and the country is of strategic importance to Fifa. Chinese conglomerate the Wanda Group signed up as a top-tier Fifa Partner in March 2016, while dairy products manufacturer the Mengniu Group served as an official sponsor of the 2018 World Cup.

Infantino today said there were no other candidates for the Club World Cup hosting rights. “It is a historic decision for football,” he said, according to the Reuters news agency. “The new (tournament) will be a competition which anyone who loves football is looking forward to. It is the first real and true (Club) World Cup where the best clubs will compete.”

Adding that the new tournament would have a “major impact” financially, Infantino said: “It will allow us to generate significant revenues but I want to underline this, very, very clearly…Fifa will have zero out of this because we will reinvest this in football.”

In other news from the Council meeting, Fifa today assigned hosting rights to three more of its events in 2021 and provided an update on the bidding process for the 2030 World Cup. Indonesia will host the U-20 World Cup, Peru will stage the U-17 World Cup and Russia will be the setting for the Beach Soccer World Cup.

Finally, Fifa said the bidding process for the 2030 World Cup is set to be launched in the second quarter of 2022, with a decision on the host(s) scheduled to take place at the 2024 Fifa Congress. In June, the Spanish Football Federation (RFEF) and Portuguese Football Federation (FPF) confirmed that a process is underway to potentially launch a joint bid for the tournament.