Every World Cup brings novelties. This year, it has been the rise of the underdogs on the pitch and the rise of Chinese influence off it. The Wanda branding plastered all over the stadiums in Russia is quite unmissable.

As one of Fifa’s seven official partners, China’s biggest commercial property firm has been advertised to a global audience of several hundred million along with Adidas, Gazprom, Qatar Airways, Visa, Coca-Cola and Hyundai/Kia.

China last qualified for the World Cup in 2002 but the country still has a significant presence in Russia, on the advertising hoardings.

The importance of Chinese firms goes beyond the number crunching and the help they offered to Fifa to steady the financial ship after Western sponsors backed off following #FIFAgate: China wants to host the 2030 World Cup and the tie-ups with Fifa could be decisive in the bidding wars. Qatar is hosting the 2022 tournament and North America in 2026.

The 2026 bid had a singular sales pitch: money. The North Americans have promised $11bn in profits to Fifa. The Chinese sponsorship is in the same vein and bringing a World Cup to China will allow the local game to develop and even boom.

“China is an increasingly important market for Fifa. With interest around the sport in China growing, it is unsurprising that more Chinese brands are engaging with the World Cup," a Reuters report quoted Nielsen Sports’ global managing director Glenn Lovett as saying.

“Football has unique potential to bring the people together, and bring the community together. And this is exactly why Wanda has signed up with Fifa, not just for the 2018 World Cup, but until 2030," the Reuters report quoted Yang Hengming, president of Wanda Sports, as saying.

In recent years, the Chinese domestic game has grown rapidly with President Xi Jinping’s insatiable desire to propel China onto football’s world stage. In 2011 he proposed a goal-orientated vision for his country. He listed three ambitions, all football related: to qualify for the World Cup, to host it and, ultimately, to win it.

Those dreams speak of a larger narrative of Chinese nation-building. A World Cup in 2030 then would offer China a chance at more cultural diplomacy and a sporting opportunity to leave its mark on the game.

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