Fifa signs China's Wanda as top level sponsor partner

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Germany v Argentina in the 2014 World Cup finalImage source, Getty Images
Image caption,
The deal covers four World Cup tournaments

Conglomerate Wanda Group has become the first Chinese top-tier partner of world football governing body Fifa.

It is the first big deal of new Fifa President Gianni Infantino's reign, and the first since the scandals that engulfed the organisation.

Wanda Group operates in a number of sectors including property, retail, sport, hotels, film and stores.

It has entered at the highest level of sponsorship rights and the deal covers the next four World Cups until 2030.

The financial size of the partnership has not been revealed, but it is believed to be one of the biggest in Fifa's history.

Fifa's top five sponsors - Coca Cola, Gazprom, Adidas, Visa, Hyundai - paid some $180m to the governing body between them in 2015.

Although Wanda is the first Chinese firm to enter at this top level, another Chinese firm, Yingli Solar - a solar panel provider - was a second-tier Fifa sponsor of the 2010 and 2014 World Cups.

'Strengthen football'

One of the companies Wanda owns is InFront Media, a sports marketing firm which owns the media rights for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups across 26 Asian territories.

The agreement is another sign of the growing importance of football in China - with government backing, major expansion and investment in the game at home, and a number of overseas clubs being bought by Chinese businesses.

Dalian Wanda has a 20% stake in Spanish La Liga football team Atletico Madrid, while fellow Chinese company CMC took a 13% stake in the parent group of Manchester City last December.

"We are pleased to welcome the Wanda Group to Fifa," said Mr Infantino.

He added that it was "a company that has a long affiliation with football, has been an active supporter of the game for many years and shares our enthusiasm to develop and strengthen football".

'Highly motivated'

Wanda Group will have rights to all Fifa competitions and corporate activities up to and including the 2030 World Cup.

Mr Infantino said the Wanda partnership would help with the continuing development and growth of the game in China and elsewhere.

"We are highly motivated to promote football across the country and to inspire a new generation of youngsters," said Wang Jianlin, chairman of the Wanda Group and the richest man in China.

He said the company wanted to support the Chinese government drive to develop football in the country. President Xi Jinping made football a national priority last year.

The deal is some positive news for Fifa, which has been engulfed in a corruption scandal for the past 10 months.

On Thursday, it said that costs connected with the scandal, including legal fees, helped bring about a loss of $122m in 2015, its first since 2002.