BEIJING, July 21, 2010 (AFP) - Asian Football Confederation chief Mohamed Bin Hammam has urged China to work on growing the sport -- and suggested its bid to host a World Cup would have to wait if Asia lands the 2022 tournament.
Bin Hammam's comments during a visit to Beijing came after China's football chief said the country -- rattled by a far-reaching corruption scandal that has hit all levels of the sport -- was ready to launch a bid for the 2026 Cup.
"The AFC is committed to helping develop the sport in China," Bin Hammam was quoted by the official China Daily newspaper as saying.
"China is a major part of the AFC. We would like to see China always playing in different international competitions," he said after talks with Chinese Football Association (CFA) officials.
"I'm sure, if it makes great efforts after what was discussed, China will be an Asian leader again."
CFA chief Wei Di said last week that it was the "best time" for Beijing to launch a bid to host the World Cup in 2026. But Australia, Japan, Qatar and South Korea are already vying for the 2022 Cup.
"There are now four Asian countries bidding for the 2022 Cup. Naturally, if one of them wins the bid, then Asia's 2026 bid is going to disappear," Bin Hammam said.
The AFC chief said his confidence in the 2022 bids was boosted by the strong performances of the region's teams in the recently-ended World Cup in South Africa.
Japan and South Korea reached the round of 16, while Australia and North Korea were ousted in the group stage.
"The good Cup performances have provided an incentive for other parts of Asia... to look for ways and means to develop football in their countries," Bin Hammam said.
China has only qualified for the World Cup once, in 2002.
Australian football officials said this week that they were confident China's interest in hosting the tournament would not have an adverse impact on their chances.
"If we cannot make it for 2022, then we can work towards the 2026 World Cup," Bin Hammam said.