2017-11-16 08:37:41

Chinese soccer fans briefly got their hopes up Thursday after a newspaper quoted Marcello Lippi, head coach of the men’s national team, as saying that the country would apply to host the 2030 FIFA World Cup.

Several hours later, the Chinese Football Association (CFA) said Chengdu Business Daily had not recently spoken with Lippi, and that the article had been pieced together from previous interviews. The CFA clarified that it had not applied to host any World Cup, but did not mention whether it had future plans to do so.

Chengdu Business Daily could not be reached for comment on Thursday. China National Radio reported Thursday that the interview with Lippi had taken place in September.

Rumors about China’s hopes of hosting the world’s second-largest sporting event, after the Summer Olympics, have swirled for some time.

In June, reporters asked a foreign ministry spokesperson whether President Xi Jinping would petition the head of FIFA, the governing body that organizes the World Cup, during an upcoming meeting to allow China to host the 2030 event. The spokesperson did not answer the question directly but said: “There are probably a lot of Chinese citizens who have this dream, and I, too, hope that this day will arrive soon.”

The CFA’s statement was met with disappointment from Chinese fans. “You just couldn’t let us be happy,” wrote one commenter. On the Chinese stock market, several soccer-related companies saw their share prices rise and fall on Thursday. One CFA sponsor, LED display manufacturer Ledman Optoelectronic Co. Ltd., saw its share price jump around 10 percent, only to deflate by the afternoon.

The Chinese men’s team last took part in the World Cup, a tournament held every four years, in 2002, when they failed to score a single goal. The men’s team is currently ranked 57th in the world. The women’s national team — currently ranked 13th — has been far more successful.

President Xi, an avowed soccer fan, has pushed for more fields and more sports education for China’s youth.

Over 20 provinces recently published soccer reform plans, state-owned China News Service reported Saturday. Thirteen said that they wanted to host large-scale, international matches and would “actively participate in applying for the World Cup.”

Additional reporting: Fan Liya; editor: David Paulk.

(Header image: China men’s national team coach Marcello Lippi (center) directs players during practice in Guangzhou, Guangdong province, Nov. 7, 2017. VCG)