Photo taken by Getty Images
During the 2016 SportAccord Convention, Yutang Sports, as the only media partner within mainland China, were able to interview FIFA Director Walter Gagg. He shared his suggestions about how China could grow its football industry in a faster and more sustainable way.
Yutang：First, thank you very much for your time. So let’s talk about FIFA’s new president Gianni Infantino and his vision of FIFA’s growth in Asia, especially in China. Does the new president Infantino already share his position on the future growth or the future development of football globally and in China?
Walter Gagg：Mr. Gianni Infantino was elected as FIFA President on February 26th, 2016. So far, he was traveling in Africa, to South America, to North America, and now he is going to some countries in Europe [like] Russia. Then he is also going to Qatar for evident reasons. But I believe Mr. Gianni Infantino will take into consideration this big country, the continent of China, when he starts the development of football in the world.
China is absolutely a coming football country, not only since Mr. Xi Jinping, President of P.R. China’s setup of the aims and targets for the future of the sport in China, but also before, football in China is something tremendous. We know millions of millions of football players are directly involved in the game. Youth, boys and girls, and the tremendous popularity of our game in China made that already in 2002, China was qualified the World Cup in Korea and Japan. Unfortunately, since this time, the [Chinese] national team didn’t qualify, but I think in the future, China will remain one of the leaders in sport and in football in the Asian part. And personally I hope so much that China will come back to the best of Asian teams, in order to qualify for the coming World Cups. For 2018, it’s too late, but for 2022 in Qatar, then in 2030, I personally believe chances are good that China will come back to the World Cup.
Yutang：Talking about the World Cup, many Chinese wish and wonder when China could organize a World Cup. What’s your opinion? Do you think it’s possible in the relatively near future, or still some needs need to be access?
Walter Gagg：You know, Qatar will be the organizer of the World Cup in 2022. That’s means in 2026, it will not be possible to organize this competition again in Asia. It will be in the Americas, in the Europe or elsewhere. It cannot be [possible for the competition], four years after the 2022 World Cup to go back to Asia. But in 2030, why not? 2030 will be excellent period for China to become to the organizer. We know that also Uruguay will decide to organize the 2030 World Cup, because it’s a centenary since Uruguay was selected as the first organizer of World Cup in 1930. But this is a future we do not know yet. But China will be, in my opinion, absolutely able to organize a World Cup. At this time we will have 40 teams, but even with 40 teams, China can do it, because they have tremendous interest for football, they have cities, they can have 12 to 16 venues, [they have]cities with millions of millions of spectators. So in my opinion, this will not be any problem to organize a World Cup in China.
Yutang：Do you have some ideas about how China could improve its chance of being a host? Do they have to grow their league, the Chinese league? Or do they have to work more on media? Or Do they have to make their football more competitive?
Walter Gagg：China actually have good football, but not yet the quality of football they need to become a world-class team. This is not yet possible. They have excellent club football. They have not only Evergrande, Scolari the Brazilian coach, and Coach Erickson in the Shanghai [SIPG]. But we’re convinced that in a few years, through the good organization of youth football, they will have more and more outstanding youth players, becoming outstanding international players from China. Last September, in Guangzhou, I was having an opportunity to see the Evergrande football school, with thousands of thousands of boys and girls, with Spanish youth coaches, with 51 or even more pitches. They have absolutely tremendous football schools, but also have professional clubs [like] Evergrande. I’m convinced that in the future of football, in this part of Asia, China will become one day a very, very good team, not only for Asia, but for the world.
Yutang：Chinese companies want to invest in football. Recently, Wanda has a partnership with you. Could you comment on the negotiation process? What about the benefits for each of you?
Walter Gagg：Wanda is absolutely a leading company in China. This is financially a very, very strong company. FIFA is very happy to have a contract with this company. We got this chance to become a partner through some people who talked directly with the organization. But also we have very good leadership in China. We are very happy that Wanda are involved in sporting industry, especially in our game in football. We’re convinced this is just a start, there will be other companies that will also become very important for our game, for football.
Personally, I am still involved in the football school of Evergrande in Guangzhou. A few weeks ago, I met, in Madrid, Mr. Liu, who was the President of this big company, Evergrande football school. I’m convinced that youth schools will also be great for the game, football in China.
Yutang：So you are expecting more companies for your partnerships? Do you know what is the standard when you choose a company?
Walter Gagg：Yeah, the standard will be very high. We know already now we have a very high level [partnership] with Wanda organization. But the future will be even higher. Through the start we have now with Wanda, we know that many other companies will become also leaderships in football and sport in the future.
Yutang：Alibaba recently sponsored FIFA Club World Cup, replacing Toyota. What about the partnership?
Walter Gagg：We are very happy to partner with Alibaba. This is also another important company. You know, when [I] see these companies are becoming so important, not only with our organization, but also with many other sports oragnizations. We are convinced that they are on the right way to support us, to assist us. We just can be happy that they came also to football.
Yutang：Do you think the partnership will help China to host FIFA Club World Cup one day?
Walter Gagg：The FIFA Club World Cup? Absolutely possible. Now we are going back to years ago, we see Toyota Club World Cup in Japan. So why not two or three years later to have this organization in China? That’s absolutely possible.
Yutang：Some sponsors or partners rejected to work with FIFA during the crisis. Do you have any comment on this? Do you have any solution?
Walter Gagg：I will not specially say the sponsorship matters. But I know when one sponsor is leaving FIFA, there are two behind waiting to become FIFA’s sponsors.
Yutang：The Chinese government started to encourage the development of Chinese football and the sport is very hot in China. It’s Chinese hope to develop football. What’s your suggestion for the development to make it faster and sustainable?
Walter Gagg：I think the success of club football now, and we hope so much that it will be very soon again the Chinese national team will bring back the success and those convictions that China can do it. We are convinced in a few years, China is back in the world of football.
Yutang：My last question, recently, some of good players or key players from Europe are moving to China. Do you see it’s positive? Or What’s your opinion about how Chinese leagues become as competitive as European leagues?
Walter Gagg：To become as important as European leagues will not be done in the next ten or five years, but they have former world-class players nowadays in China. This is very good, because this gives aims for youth, and fans from all behind. They have Ramires and many other former players from France, England, Spain, Brazil and Argentina. This is the start of a new period. And in China, it has become more and more important by education of Chinese coaches. So far the best coaches are South American and European. But one day they will need also Chinese coaches. This takes time. From one thing to the other, they have to improve the quality of coaches, not only on youth level, but also on professional football.
One of FIFA's most experienced operators, having enjoyed a distinguished career at world football's governing body, Gagg enjoyed a playing career in his native Switzerland and France.
Having held the role of administrative director of the national team at the Swiss Football Association from 1975 to 1982, Gagg moved to FIFA in 1983 to become head of their technical department.
Gagg was the director of the development department, the technical and competitions director and in 2001 moved on to become the director for stadiums and security. He is also a soccer football and administration instructor for FIFA and the Swiss FA, and since 2008, Gagg has been the director of the executive office of the FIFA President Sepp Blatter.