FIFA inks WCup deal with Chinese sponsor linked to Blatter

ZURICH (AP) — FIFA signed its first World Cup sponsor since 2013 on Friday, agreeing to a four-tournament deal with a Chinese conglomerate that has links to Sepp Blatter.

FIFA said the deal with property and cinema giant Dalian Wanda Group runs through the 2030 World Cup. The value of the top-tier partnership was not disclosed but is likely to top hundreds of millions of dollars.

The firm’s Wanda Sports Holding subsidiary is led by Blatter’s nephew, Philippe Blatter. Sepp Blatter was forced out as FIFA president by a corruption crisis.

Wanda Group chairman Wang Jianlin and Philippe Blatter were at FIFA headquarters on Friday to complete the deal.

FIFA last signed a sponsor 2 1/2 years ago when Russian energy giant Gazprom agreed to a deal.

FIFA officials have often acknowledged that potential commercial partners were put off by the corruption scandals, and would wait until after the presidential election to replace Blatter before signing.

The Wanda money will help fund the spending promises that FIFA President Gianni Infantino made before his election last month.

On Thursday, FIFA committed to pay $517 million more to national, regional and continental soccer bodies through 2018.

FIFA also upgraded its revenue forecast by $1.2 billion to $5.66 billion for a four-year commercial cycle tied to the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

Wanda Group is not the first World Cup sponsor from China. Energy company Yingli Solar was a second-tier sponsor for the 2014 tournament in Brazil.

On Thursday, FIFA said it banked only $224 million last year from seven World Cup sponsors. That left 27 of the available slots to be filled for two-tournament deals covering 2018 in Russia and the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.

Wanda Group was the first of those 27, with others expected to follow in the next weeks.