China may throw its hat into the 2022 World Cup ring

Qatar and three other Asian federation countries bidding for the 2022 World Cup have another contender to worry about to bag the big event.

DUBAI // Qatar and three other Asian federation countries bidding for the 2022 World Cup already faced enormous logistical challenges in preparing for the big event. Now they have China to worry about, too. The China Football Association (CFA) has indicated it may bid for the World Cup in 2026, raising speculation that such a move could undermine the hopes of Qatar, Japan, South Korea and Australia, all of whom are in the running to host football's showpiece in 2022.

The winning bids for 2018 and 2022 will be announced on December 2, with a European country expected to be chosen for the 2018 event. The emergence of China as a contender for 2026 could work in favour of the US bid for 2022. "If China throws its hat in for 2026, it blows everything wide open for 2022 because in many ways China is arguably the last great footballing frontier," said Simon Chadwick, a sports marketing expert at Coventry University in England.

"From the Chinese government's perspective, bidding for the World Cup is an important thing," he said. "From Fifa's perspective, there is considerable appeal in China bidding for 2026 because I think it's a very important marketplace. I would argue China is much more important marketplace than the [US] was in 1994." Wei Di, the CFA president, first hinted at a bid last week after returning from the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, telling the country's leading sports newspaper, Titan Sports, that China has the venues and the rail network needed to host a big event - something he communicated to Sepp Blatter, the Fifa president.

"Mr Blatter told me China is becoming more and more influential and it's an irresistible trend that China will finally host a World Cup," Wei said. He also came out in favour of the United States winning the 2022 bid and took aim at Qatar over fears that an Asian winner would jeopardise China's chances in 2026. "Qatar is so hot, even though the country is rich enough to build venues with air-conditioning systems," Wei told the newspaper. "But what's the population of that country? How can they fill their venues with people?

"I'd rather hope the US could win the bid, which means we'll have higher chance of success bidding for 2026. If Fifa decided to let an Asian country host the 2022 World Cup, then China will have to wait at least until 2030." Fifa rules currently dictate that no continent can host the World Cup twice in a row. Fifa said in a statement yesterday that it does not yet have a timetable with regard to the bidding process for the 2026 World Cup, adding that it would be premature to speculate on the process at this stage.

Wei this week reaffirmed China's interest in hosting the 2026 tournament during a press conference in Beijing but said, according to the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) website: "I never said I don't want other Asian countries not to win it in 2022." The talk of China bidding for the 2026 World Cup brought a less than supportive response from Mohamed bin Hammam, the AFC president and a native Qatari who was at the news conference.

Bin Hammam said the AFC is supporting the four Asian bidders for the 2022 tournament and that he "didn't want to jeopardise their chances". Reaction from the four bidders to the Chinese threat has been mixed, with only Japan acknowledging that a Chinese bid poses challenges. Qatar football officials declined to comment. "For Fifa, China is important when it comes to the development of football," said Motoaki Inukai, the chairman of Japan's bid.

* AP