HONG KONG (Reuters) - Hong Kong football chief Timothy Fok has called on Beijing to keep the territory in mind should China launch a bid to host the World Cup finals.
Speculation about a potential Chinese bid to host the global soccer showpiece has grown since President Xi Jinping spoke of his desire to see China qualify for another World Cup, host one and, eventually, win the tournament.
Fok said Hong Kong had proved it was a capable sporting partner after hosting the equestrian events during the 2008 Beijing Olympics and that there had been a movement toward spreading hosting rights out.
"There is a trend now to combine hosting for major football events, like the United States bidding for the 2026 World Cup with Canada and Mexico," Fok, who is president of the HKFA and the Hong Kong Olympic Committee, was quoted as saying by the South China Morning Post.
"Beijing was very generous when they allowed Hong Kong to host the equestrian events and I remember my IOC colleagues were very impressed by Hong Kong, not only with its facilities but its administration and how it organised the event.
"I was at the FIFA Congress in Bahrain and I was always hint, hint to the Chinese officials ... if China got anything, don't forget Hong Kong."
Hong Kong's sporting relationship with China is complicated by the autonomy granted to the region in the aftermath of the handover from British control in 1997, which gave Hong Kong the right to determine its own sporting policy independent from the mainland for a 50-year period.
As a result, the HKFA operates separately from the game's authorities in Beijing and clubs from the city play in their own professional league rather than in China's domestic set-up, where clubs have been spending huge sums on playing and coaching talent from across the world.
Fabio Capello became the latest foreign coach to sign for a Chinese Super League club on Sunday when he was named as the new coach of Jiangsu Suning.
The Italian will work in a league that also features Luiz Felipe Scolari, Andre Villas-Boas and Fabio Cannavaro, while World Cup winner Marcello Lippi is at the helm of the national team.
Fok's comments come as pressure increases on the government in Hong Kong to support the development of a new stadium on the site of the city's old airport at Kai Tak in Kowloon.
"I hope the new (Hong Kong) administration passes the stadium and makes Hong Kong a truly international city," he added. "And I'm sure sports can play a significant role in bringing the community together."
Reporting by Michael Church in Hong Kong, Editing by Peter Rutherford