On October 24th, Fifa president Gianni Infantino confirmed that China will host an expanded Club World Cup competition in 2021.
The number of participants will rise from seven to 24, including eight European clubs and six from South America. North, Central America and the Caribbean region, Africa, and Asia each will have three clubs, with one from Oceania. It will be played every four years from 2021.
Infantino described the new tournament as “the first real and true [Club] World Cup where the best clubs will compete”.
It will be the first time that China has hosted the event, and the second time it has been reformed.
The tournament was first contested in 2000 as the FIFA Club World Championship in Brazil and featured the winners of the Uefa Champions League and the Copa Libertadores.
Since 2005, the competition has been held annually and includes seven teams: the winners of that year’s AFC Champions League (Asia), CAF Champions League (Africa), CONCACAF Champions League (North America), Copa Libertadores (South America), OFC Champions League (Oceania) and UEFA Champions League (Europe), along with the host country’s champions.
By enlarging the event, Fifa wants to make it the second-most important global football tournament after the World Cup itself. It estimates it could generate more than £862m in revenue.
At the 2018 World Cup in Russia, there were seven major Chinese sponsors, despite China once again not reaching the finals
According to Fifa’s 2018 financial report, 83% of the aggregate revenue of $6.4bn (£4.9bn) in the 2015-2018 cycle was created by the 2018 World Cup.
By expanding the scale and influence of the Club World Cup, football’s world governing body is aiming to further boost its money-making ability. But why has China been selected as the host of the 2021 edition?
Co-operation between Fifa and China used to mainly be focused on the business level because of the poor quality of the men’s Chinese national team. Chinese enterprises have invested massively in Fifa in recent years. At the 2018 World Cup, there were seven major Chinese sponsors, despite China once again not reaching the finals.
It might be the only country in the world that can stage international events regardless of the cost
The success of the 2008 Beijing Olympics, and the upcoming 2022 Beijing & Zhangjiakou Winter Olympics, prove China’s ability to host and organise huge international sports competitions well.
It might be the only country in the world that can hold international events regardless of the cost. This factor surely motivated Fifa to agree China as the inaugural host the reformed Club World Cup.
In August, Chen Xuyuan was elected as the new president of the Chinese Football Association (CFA). One of his goals is to bid to become World Cup hosts, but this ambition has never previously received large support even in China.
China’s desire to host major football tournaments is usually linked by outsiders to its ambitions to develop its domestic game, but this analysis is flawed. While hosting big events may facilitate the construction of more modern stadia and infrastructure in Chinese cities, the development of Chinese football on the pitch depends more on implementing the correct policies and strategic long-term planning.
After witnessing the disappointing performance of their men’s national team and the CFA’s controversial policies for a long time, hosting the 2021 tournament will give Chinese fans the chance to watch top foreign players in action and perhaps sow the seeds of support for a Chinese World Cup bid further down the line.
There are some other potential benefits to China. After so many tensions on the international stage in recent years, staging an influential football tournament will allow China to present itself in a way which tackles the stereotypes that shape its global image.
Part of this diplomatic mission, in conjunction with Fifa, will be to ‘sell’ the Club World Cup, particularly in Europe, where opposition to an expanded competition has been loudly voiced by the top domestic leagues.
Each participating club will receive at least £15m, with the winners banking £93m
Money may yet persuade those clubs to change their minds. The European Club Association announced in March that its members would boycott the expanded tournament, but the prize fund has now been confirmed.
Each participating club will receive at least £15m, with the winners banking £93m. That larger amount is still slightly less than the bottom-placed Premier League club will earn in a season from TV revenue and prize money, but it may cause some European Leagues, who enviously eye English football’s wealth, to break ranks.
If it does, Infantino and Fifa’s Chinese stakeholders could well get the prestigious tournament they hope the Club World Cup will be in 2021.