Wanda becomes FIFA top sponsor

ZURICH, March 18, (AFP): Chinese conglomerate Wanda group on Friday became the first top level sponsor for FIFA as world football seeks to renew its scandal-tainted image after the departure of Sepp Blatter. A FIFA statement said Wanda, owned by China’s richest man Wang Jianlin, would have “the highest level of sponsorship rights” for the next four World Cups. It did not give a figure for the sponsorship. Wanda, founded by Wang, has its origins in commercial property but is diversifying into areas ranging from entertainment to e-commerce.

Wang, 61, whose personal fortune is estimated at about $29 billion, already has a stake in Atletico Madrid and owns Infront, one of the biggest sports marketing and media companies, which has FIFA as a client. The world football body has been struggling to find new top level sponsors since corruption scandals erupted last year. Thirty-nine football officials and business executives face charges in the United States over more than $200 million in bribes paid for football deals. Longtime football leader Blatter is now fighting a six-year-ban for ethical abuses.

His nephew Philippe Blatter runs Infront for Wanda however. Sony and Emirates Airlines quit as top level FIFA sponsors in 2014 and were never immediately replaced. FIFA on Thursday announced a $122 million loss for 2015 because of the cost of the scandals.

New FIFA president Gianni Infantino has vowed a new era of transparency and to put the body, which earns about $5.5 billion dollars in ever four years between World Cups, back on a sound financial footing. Under the new deal, Wanda Group will have sponsorship commercial rights to all FIFA competitions and corporate activities up to and including the 2030 World Cup, said a FIFA statement.

Infantino said: “I believe that the relationship with Wanda will support us to continue the on-going development and growth of the game in China and all over the world.” Wang’s interests in sport fit in closely with the desire of China’s President Xi Xinping to step up his country’s sporting power, particularly in football. There has been talk of a Chinese bid for the 2026 World Cup.

“We are highly motivated to promote football across the country and to inspire a new generation of youngsters,” said Wang. Wanda promised to get involved in “grassroots football development” in China and Asia. “The Chinese government is committed to this development and as a company we strongly support these efforts,” said Wang

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