China will not rush into World Cup bid, says Zhang
HONG KONG (Reuters) - Newly elected FIFA Council member Zhang Jian has confirmed that China intends to bid for a World Cup but said there had been no decision made as to which edition of soccer's global showpiece the country would seek to host.
Zhang, speaking at the World Soccer Forum in Changsha, told state news agency Xinhua that China would not rush into a bid and would do so only when conditions were right.
"Sooner or later we will bid for the World Cup, because it is written in the General Development Plan of Chinese Football," Zhang said.
"However, which edition we apply for will be determined by lots of factors, and it will be a national project. It is not only the Chinese Football Association's decision to make."
The Chinese FA denied reports last week it had already decided to bid for the 2034 World Cup finals.
"We will do more serious research and it will depend on how the situation develops," added Zhang.
President Xi Jinping is an avid football fan and has spoken in the past of "three wishes" for China; to qualify for another World Cup since their first and only appearance at the 2002 finals, to host a World Cup, and to eventually win one.
The country is currently in the midst of a football boom, with Chinese Super League clubs spending huge sums to lure overseas coaches and players while the nation's businessmen have been buying up some of the game's leading teams.
China's growing influence in the sport extended to Zhang's appointment to the FIFA Council last week, when he was one of four new members elected at the Asian Football Confederation's congress in Bahrain.
"(My appointment) happened as part of the bigger picture of China's football reform and development, and it means in the future Chinese football, world football and Asian football can eventually be integrated in a good way," said Zhang.
"Chinese football can provide more opportunities and motivation to Asian and world football.
"Asia is the biggest continent but the level of Asian football is not consistent with its scale. It is relatively poor in the world. However, Asian football has a lot of potential, considering its geographical size, population and market.
"It must have a bright future."
(Reporting by Michael Church in Hong Kong, Editing by Peter Rutherford)