China's richest man deepens sports foray with global marathons deal

Wanda Group Chairman Wang Jianlin (background 3rd L) attends a signing ceremony between his company and the Abbott World Marathon Majors (WMM) together with Tokyo Marathon race director Tad Hayano, Boston Athletic Association Executive Director Thomas Grilk, London Marathon race director Hugh Brasher and WMM general manager Tim Hadzima in Beijing China April 26, 2017. REUTERS/Thomas Peter

BEIJING (Reuters) - China's Dalian Wanda Group, controlled by the country's richest man Wang Jianlin, has signed a deal to sponsor races with the world's top organizer, Abbott World Marathon Majors (WMM), the latest move by Wanda to expand its global sports business.

Wanda's sports division and WMM on Wednesday signed a deal that will see Wanda hold three WMM races in the Asia-Pacific region in the next ten years, including a race in China.

The Abbott World Marathon Majors presently consist of six of the world's most well-known marathon races, including the Boston Marathon and the New York Marathon.

A WMM China race may be inaugurated within three years, Wang told a singing ceremony in Beijing.

"This is the right moment for a world marathon to come to China," Wang said.

Hugh Brasher, London Marathon race director, told reporters at the announcement that it may take several years before a Chinese city meets operational criteria to host a marathon event.

Pollution is an element that needs to be addressed to hold a race, Brasher said, but other criteria, including financial and political support, are required.

Wanda has helped lead China's push into organized sports and sports marketing, as the government advances its goal of turning the sector into a 5 trillion yuan ($725.63 billion) business by 2025.

Over the last two years, Wanda has sealed a series of high-profile sports investments, including buying WTC, the U.S. owner of the popular Ironman Triathlon franchise, and taking a 20 percent stake in Spanish soccer club Atletico Madrid.

Wanda last year also became a top sponsor of soccer's global governing body FIFA and said it will organize the first China Cup from 2017, and inked a partnership with international basketball's governing body FIBA.

The group has said that it plans to create at least 10 major international sports events in China before 2020.

In September, Wanda also signed an eight-year exclusive partnership with Badminton World Federation (BWF), the world badminton governing body.

($1 = 6.8906 Chinese yuan renminbi)

(The story is corrected to remove reference to Marathon Singapore after clarification from company)

(Reporting by Muyu Xu and Matthew Miller; Editing by Muralikumar Anantharaman)