FIFA Cozies Up With China As Rest Of Sports World Backs Away

FIFA announced China will host the revamped Club World Cup in 2021.

FIFA has once again chosen money over human rights. And FIFA president Gianni Infantino’s indifference is infuriating. 

China will host the revamped, 24-team Club World Cup in 2021, FIFA announced Thursday, once again eschewing human rights in favor of handing coveted hosting rights to authoritarian governments. 

FIFA required human rights reviews to be conducted on both bids for the 2026 World Cup after receiving criticism for giving the prior two tournaments to Russia and Qatar. No such review was done before handing China an overhauled Club World Cup that FIFA hopes will rival the World Cup in popularity. 

When asked about a human rights review for the process, Infantino evaded the question like a frustrating politician, instead saying it’s not FIFA’s job to fix the world’s problems, plus there are lots of places with civil unrest outside of China.

“As a FIFA president and as a human being as well, I think that we need to reflect on our role,” Infantino said, though we question his second assertion about being human. “Countries all over the world are going through difficult times. It is not the mission of FIFA to solve the problems of the world. 

“The mission of FIFA is to organize football and to develop football all over the world. ... We do that by bringing football to the people, not by criticizing.”

In other words: Money got to FIFA and Infantino.

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FIFA has no problem meddling with politics or human rights when it’s convenient, as when it finally forced Iran to allow women into the stadium (still singular, unfortunately, as it hasn’t been extended to other matches). 

But when money is involved FIFA retreats into its shell, saying it’s only here to spread soccer throughout the world.

It’s quite easy to see through this pathetic façade.

Infantino hemming and hawing about places like Chile, Lebanon and Syria while handing China a footballing gift is disingenuous on countless levels. China’s human rights record is among the worst in the world, as has become more evident recently thanks to events in other sports.

The NBA found itself in a quandary after Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey tweeted support for Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protests and NBA commissioner Adam Silver defended his right to free speech. China clamped down hard on the NBA, which lost numerous deals with Chinese companies and broadcasters. Similarly, video game giant Blizzard found itself the target of a boycott after siding with China over a Hearthstone player who made a pro-Hong Kong statement during a livestream.

But the NBA and Blizzard rancor backfired on China, as it only drew more attention to the plight of those in Hong Kong, while also providing more reason for journalists to point out the numerous other areas where China has oppressed its population. In the western region of Xinjiang, China has placed more than a million Muslims and Uyghurs in internment camps. John Oliver’s “Last Week Tonight” recently highlighted the problems with China’s one-child policy (now two-child but not much better). Not that FIFA cares.

FIFA just takes its tournaments to the highest bidder, where it can spread the sport to as many dollar bills eyeballs as possible. This time, it just so happened to be China, which since 2015 has focused on improving soccer in the country both with its domestic league and national team. 

The revamped Club World Cup will include 24 teams from at least five of the six FIFA confederations — Oceania has to earn its one spot with a qualifier against a club from the host nation. UEFA will receive eight bids (though FIFA wanted to give it more), followed by six for CONMEBOL and three each for Concacaf, CAF (Africa) and AFC (Asia). The 24 teams will be divided into eight groups of three, with the winners of each group advancing to the quarterfinals. The tournament is tentatively scheduled for summer 2021, which could butt up against the Concacaf Gold Cup and Africa Cup of Nations.

Infantino expressed a desire to grow the Club World Cup into an event equal in importance to the World Cup. In his mind, because supporters of clubs are not limited by nation, fans in places with poor national teams (read: China and probably the U.S. if we’re being honest) have a reason to tune in without a national team to back.

“How many people outside of Italy are supporting the Italian national team?” Infantino said. “Not many, but when you look at how many people are supporting Real Madrid or Barcelona in Spain, this goes much beyond the Spanish borders. These are hundreds of millions of people all around the world, including of course in Asia and China.”

He’s got a point, but at the same time, do we really need a summer tournament extending the club season that’s already obscenely long and gives players little time off?

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Also during the FIFA Council meeting on Thursday, FIFA decided to double its investment into women’s soccer to $1 billion over the next Women’s World Cup cycle. It’s nice to see FIFA is starting to realize it can make money off women’s soccer and so it might want to prime that pump after record-breaking TV numbers from the 2019 Women’s World Cup.

FIFA also released a timeline for bidding on the 2030 World Cup (the process will start in 2022 with a decision made in 2024) and announced the hosts for upcoming FIFA tournaments. Indonesia will host the 2021 U-20 World Cup, Peru the 2021 U-17 World Cup and Russia the 2021 Beach Soccer World Cup.

So, yes, we started by telling you FIFA overlooks human rights issues by awarding the Club World Cup to China and end by reminding you it’s also still awarding events to Russia. Then again, FIFA also gave the U.S. the 2026 World Cup, and there’s all kind of bad shit going on in U.S. politics right now from abuse of power to widespread voter suppression, so who are we to talk. 

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