Alibaba’s drive into the sports sector, particularly football sponsorship, is part of a wider Chinese strategy that is expected to bring a Fifa World Cup to the country in the near future.
"Bringing events of the scale of the Fifa World Cup to a country generally requires a broad coalition of willing stakeholders," says Jon Long, the managing director of the Middle East branch of the sports research consultancy Repucom.
“The more private and public entities that get behind a bid, the stronger China’s case for hosting will become.”
China has been cultivating potential votes for decades through an aid programme dubbed ‘stadium diplomacy’ that has helped to build or finance stadiums through Africa, Asia, the Caribbean and the South Pacific.
At least 84 sports stadiums or sporting facilities have benefitted from some form of Sino-aid over the past four decades, according to analysis by the Qatar-based International Centre for Sports Security.
These projects range from the recently completed US$100 million Estadio Nacional in Costa Rica, to a 20,000-seat stadium in Port Gentil, which will help Gabon stage the 2017 African Cup of Nations.
This research, which was published in the latest edition of the ICSS Journal, shows at least 58 stadiums have been built in Africa by Chinese construction companies or have Chinese funding attached.
Other major venues that China is helping build include a new Olympic Stadium in the Ivory Coast, which the west African nation needs to host the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations.
At a lesser level, China has also helped smaller countries with stadiums for more low-key events, such as the Cook Islands staging of the 2009 Pacific Games in Raratonga.
In many cases, the package involves Chinese construction companies building the actual stadium. The deals can often be tied to larger aid packages.
For example, in Ivory Coast China is building the country’s biggest hydroelectric project and a motorway between Abidjan and the border with neighbouring Ghana. These packages are also often tied to giving China access to mineral resources.
With 59 countries benefiting from this stadium diplomacy programme, China has sowed significant seeds of goodwill.
These could be beneficial when the Chinese come looking for votes to stage a global international tournament such as a Fifa World Cup with a Sino bid for the 2026 tournament considered a possibility.
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