Chinese President Xi Jinping met with FIFA chief Gianni Infantino on Wednesday as the football world watches for signs that the Asian giant will make a bid to host a World Cup.
Xi greeted Infantino in the capital’s palatial Great Hall of the People but the two men did not mention China’s World Cup ambitions as they exchanged pleasantries before their closed-door meeting.
The talks follow widespread speculation that China will bid to host the event either in 2030 or 2034.
“President Infantino, since becoming president of FIFA you have provided great support to the development and reform of football as a sport in China,” said China’s football-mad president. “I wish to express my appreciation for what you have done.”
“We are aware of the fact that FIFA is paying more attention to the development of football in China these days, and I do believe China-FIFA cooperation has a good future,” he said.
Infantino thanked Xi, adding: “We can really start a new era of football, not only in China, President Xi, but in the whole world because we are really passionate about football.”
Three major Chinese companies have signed sponsorship deals with FIFA in the space of a year, fuelling speculation that China is preparing a World Cup bid.
Infantino met on Tuesday with Wang Jianlin, chairman of one of the sponsors, Chinese conglomerate Wanda.
Chinese Football Association vice president Zhang Jian, a member of the FIFA Council which devises its global strategy, said last year he would back a Chinese World Cup in 2030.
Xi wants his country to host the global football extravaganza and also hopes China’s national team can one day win the sport’s most prestigious trophy.
But China, who languish at 82nd in FIFA’s world rankings just below Benin and the Faroe Islands, look certain to miss out on qualification for Russia 2018.
China tied 2-2 with Syria on Tuesday, leaving them bottom of their Asian qualifying Group A with just two games left.