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Wanda says more Chinese firms likely to become Fifa sponsors

[BEIJING] China's richest man said more Chinese companies are likely to join his Dalian Wanda Group Co in becoming top Fifa sponsors and help the country's chances to host the World Cup for the first time.

Another Chinese company will probably sign up as a partner "within a very short time," and yet another may do so within a year, Wanda Chairman Wang Jianlin, who last week struck a 15- year agreement with the Fédération Internationale de Football Association, said at a press briefing in Beijing on Monday. He didn't identify the other companies.

Having multiple sponsors "will help China bid to host the World Cup," Mr Wang said. "That's for sure." Increased influence with Fifa would bolster China's plans to elevate its standing in soccer as it seeks to build sports into a 5-trillion-yuan (S$1.05 trillion) industry in the country by 2025. The deal also builds on Mr Wang's push to enlarge his sports business, which has been the focus of his expansion plans along with entertainment.

Under Fifa regulations, the earliest China could host the tournament would be 2030.

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Wanda became Fifa's sixth partner, the highest sponsorship level, with two partner slots still open from the void left by Emirates airline and Sony Corp. The other remaining partners are Adidas AG, Coca-Cola Co, Gazprom, Hyundai Motor Group and Visa Inc.

With BP Plc's Castrol oil brand, Johnson & Johnson and tire maker Continental AG endingtheir World Cup sponsorship agreements, Fifa had acknowledged it was finding it difficult to lure replacements in the wake of a corruption scandal that led to the ouster of longtime president Joseph "Sepp" Blatter.

"We hope to find in this sponsorship contract a huge opportunity for Chinese soccer and for the development of Wanda's soccer business," Mr Wang said. Western companies that chose not to renew their sponsorship agreements "will surely regret it," he said.

The Fifa agreement is the latest in a string of sports- related deals for Wanda recently. In addition to taking a 20 per cent stake in Club Atletico de Madrid last year, Wanda also bought Infront Sports & Media AG, a sports marketing company headed by Philippe Blatter- nephew of Sepp - that does millions of dollars worth of business with Fifa. Wanda also bought Ironman organizer World Triathlon Corp.

For Fifa, the influx of cash is welcome. The association said Thursday that costs associated with the scandal, including legal fees, led to a loss of US$122 million in 2015, the group's first year in the red since 2002.