By Simon Evans
MANCHESTER, England (Reuters) - FIFA president Gianni Infantino said he welcomed British Prime Minister Boris Johnson's support for a joint UK-Irish bid for the 2030 World Cup but left the door open for a bid from China.
Johnson said earlier this month it was the "right time" for the UK and Ireland to bid for the tournament, which takes place every four years, while the five football federations have said they are undertaking a feasibility study.
"I am very happy of what I was reading with regard to the interest of Boris Johnson and the whole British ‘world’ so to say, to host a World Cup," Infantino, the head of world soccer's governing body, said during an online news conference on Friday.
He noted there had also been expressions of interest from Spain and Portugal in a joint bid, the Balkans (Romania, Greece, Bulgaria and Serbia) and South America where Uruguay, Argentina, Paraguay and Chile have confirmed they intend to bid together.
However, Infantino was far from clear when asked whether a bid from Asia would be allowed, given that Qatar will host the global event in 2022. If Asia is allowed to bid for 2030 that would open the door to a possible hosting campaign from China.
FIFA's statutes only state that no continental confederation can host successive tournaments. The 2026 tournament will be held jointly in the United States, Canada and Mexico.
But for the last process, the FIFA Council kept out bids from confederations who had hosted the last two tournaments - a precedent which if followed would rule out a Chinese bid.
"We need to respect the statutes which have a provision with regard to the periodicity of the World Cup for the confederations and we will then be guided by our discussions which will take place at the different FIFA committees and in the Council," said Infantino.
"As FIFA president, the message to the entire world is come and bid, the more we have the merrier," he said.
China has yet to give any indication of whether it would bid for the 2030 World Cup. The bidding process will begin in mid-2022 with the vote held in 2024.
Asked about China's human rights record, Infantino said: “Human rights are now a requirement in our bidding process but we must also realise that human rights being a requirement also means addressing it, going to the people, not excluding anyone but including everyone in the world,” he said.
“That’s my philosophy. I believe very much in the force of football to bring positive change and this can only happen if we act in a positive way.
“If we act in a negative way, if we start excluding countries or people or races or whatever, then we are completely on the wrong side," he said.
The Swiss said the bidding process, often criticised amid allegations of corruption in the past, was successful for the 2026 World Cup and would be "bullet proof" and "clean, transparent, professional and where the rules are clear ahead of the bids coming in.
"This is what we did last time and I am proud of that," he added.
(This story adds Ireland in second para)
(Reporting by Simon Evans; Editing by Ken Ferris)