DAVOS, Switzerland, Jan. 20 (Xinhua) -- FIFA President Gianni Infantino has highlighted the importance of football to the world economy.
In an interview with Xinhua at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2023, Infantino said he believed that it was very important to exchange ideas with leaders and business representatives from various countries and regions and to see how football can be integrated into the economy.
"It's not just a game where you have 22 players, referees and fans who watch. It moves a lot as an economic sector in terms of broadcast, sponsorship and ticketing, but also everything that is around in terms of the operations, the catering and so on - the security," he said.
In Infantino's view, with a global GDP of 270 billion U.S. dollars, the football industry calls for more cooperation and the sharing of benefits. "There is a lot of potential for the development of this economic sector and all over the world to follow the great example that some European countries have given. There is a lot to do all over the world," said the FIFA President.
Talking about Chinese football, Infantino said: "China is obviously a very, very important country, in general, but in football as well. It is a country that loves football."
Although China has only appeared in the FIFA World Cup finals once in 2002 and has failed to qualify for the tournament on five consecutive occasions since then, Infantino disagreed with the opinion that "China is far away".
"China didn't qualify for the last World Cup in Qatar, but you know Italy didn't qualify either. So it's not so easy to qualify, and China is definitely a candidate for the qualification of the next men's World Cup," he stated.
The 2026 FIFA World Cup will be expanded to 48 teams, which means a bigger chance for China.
"The next World Cup will have eight or nine Asian teams participating, so China has a real chance to play in the World Cup," said Infantino. "But it's important as well that we continue altogether to work on investing in developing Chinese top players, and competitions in China and in the whole of East Asia because the potential is there."
Having watched exciting matches at the 2022 FIFA World Cup, such as Saudi Arabia's victory over the eventual world champions Argentina and Japan's wins over Germany and Spain, Infantino was deeply impressed by Asian teams' performances in Qatar. He said he expected to see the growth of Asian sides at the next World Cup held in the United States, Canada and Mexico.
The 52-year-old believed that Asian or African teams are going to challenge European and South American teams' domination three years later.
"I think Asia [and Africa] can do well. I mean an African team, Morocco, reached the semifinal of this World Cup. Japan was very, very close to eliminating Croatia, who then as well reached the semifinal and won the bronze medal," he commented.
"I think it is just a question of time, and the World Cup in 2026 can definitely be a World Cup [where] we can have some surprises. Why not from Asia?" said the FIFA President.