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In China, FIFA’s Focus Is Soccer, Not Human Rights


But for FIFA, the opportunities could be hard to pass up. Though its economy is slowing, China remains a growing market of current and potential soccer fanatics who love to wear the jerseys of some of the sport’s biggest stars.

China also wants to turn around its woeful soccer fortunes, and has the money to spend to do it. Since 2015, after an edict from the central government, China has been among the biggest spenders on soccer. Xi Jinping, China’s top leader, wants to turn the national team — which has only ever played in one World Cup, in 2002 when it lost all its pool games — into a tournament regular and a host for the event, the most watched in all sports.

To that end, Chinese money has flowed into some of the sport’s most influential teams, business and organizations. That includes FIFA, where Dalian Wanda Group, a Chinese property conglomerate, joined a small group of select top tier partners. Wanda joined shortly after a group of senior FIFA executives were arrested in 2015, an episode that threatened the organization’s existence.

FIFA on Thursday formally announced China would host the inaugural version of its expanded Club World Cup in 2021. The 24-team tournament will feature some of the world’s biggest club teams, potentially including European giants like Real Madrid and Liverpool. The event will include teams from around the world, including eight from Europe and six from South America.

The tournament’s games are to be held in eight Chinese cities, to be chosen among Shanghai and 10 other cities in China now vying for the events.

Asked whether FIFA would follow its own rules and conduct a human rights review of China, including its handling of Hong Kong and Xinjiang, Mr. Infantino did not answer. He spoke at length in general terms instead about how he believed that football had helped improve conditions in many countries.

Mr. Infantino said that the FIFA Council had an easy time voting unanimously on Thursday to approve the selection of China, because it was the only country considered. He also cited other efforts that could burnish the organization’s image, like doubling its financing for women’s football around the world in the next four years to $1 billion.


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