by Ahmed Shafiq, Liu Zijin
CAIRO, March 13 (Xinhua) -- Chinese companies can play a key role in African football-related projects, Li Ying, vice-president of the greater China region for Lagardère Sports and Entertainment Group said.
Li is currently in Cairo to promote sponsorship opportunities for Chinese brands and companies working in Egypt during the upcoming 2019 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) to be held in June in the North African country.
With offices and operations in more than 25 countries, Lagardère, a French group, is a leading global sports marketing and entertainment agency with a global network of experts dedicated to delivering innovative solutions.
In January, the Confederation of African Football (CAF) announced that Egypt will host Africa's largest continental football tournament for the fifth time in its history.
The tournament was initially scheduled to be hosted by Cameroon. However, Cameroon was stripped of the right to host the tournament for serious delay in preparations.
Egypt has won the right to host the tournament over its sole rival South Africa, as it obtained 16 out of 18 votes in favor.
"After coming to Africa, I found that the African people have great passion for soccer," Li told Xinhua in an exclusive interview on Tuesday. "Football is the common language of the African people and we hope that through such publicity activities, more Chinese companies can participate in African football-related projects."
Li added that this business card of football is a better way to carry out economic and trade cooperation and promote the cultural exchange between China and Africa, noting that her company has become the exclusive partner of the CAF since 1994.
Chinese companies' investment in Africa is still dominated by "hard power" such as infrastructure and construction, Li said, adding that since the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) was held in 2018, Chinese brands have gained solid policy support in Africa.
"We responded to the Belt and Road Initiative and provided Africa with a large amount of infrastructure and resources support, but soft power is still in the beginning," she added.
"Our most important task is to promote and make connections, allowing the field of football and other cultural sectors from Africa to witness the strength of Chinese companies in this respect," Li explained.
She voiced confidence that through cooperation in AFCON, there will be more Chinese companies which are able to eye the possibility of the endless potential of football market in Africa.
Li pointed out that in 2018, the guests of the FOCAC and the enterprises agreed that in addition to continuing to strengthen cooperation in the field of infrastructure construction, China and Africa should also carry out all-round exchanges and cooperation in cultural fields including entertainment and culture sharing.
"Football is an important stop for cultural etiquette and diplomatic propaganda ... During the FOCAC in 2018, the Chinese government specifically mentioned that more than 50 sports and cultural exchanges should be held in 2019," Li noted.
In Egypt, Li said, the most popular Huawei mobile phone is a Chinese brand, adding that there are also a large number of Chinese cars such as Geely and BYD.
According to Egyptian government, about 1,080 Chinese companies are operating in Egypt in various sectors, notably industry, information technology and economic zones.
During his participation in the 2018 FOCAC in September, Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi witnessed the signing of bilateral cooperation documents with Chinese companies worth 18.3 billion U.S. dollars.
"African people have already attached deep feelings toward products made in China, and because of this, Chinese companies can be easily accepted by more locals," the Lagardère official said.
She also said that Chinese companies can achieve excellent cooperation with Africa in the field of football, which is inseparable from the support of the African Football Confederation and the African governments.
"In Egypt, for example, President Sisi and government officials often attend football-related activities. CAF also contributes a lot in aspects such as creating linkage between enterprises and governments and fully playing the role of bridge," she explained.