President Xi’s soccer reform plan may help create virtuous circle

By Shan Jie Source:Global Times Published: 2017/6/27 17:58:40

The Chinese national soccer team take part in a training session ahead of a 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifier in Guangzhou, South China's Guangdong Province, 5 June, 2017. Photo: IC

Even though many Chinese soccer fans had their hearts broken by their country's quick ejection from the FIFA World Cup in 2002, few of them would have imagined that 15 years later their country would still not have made it back to soccer's top competition.

But in February 2015, China's central reform leading group, which is chaired by President Xi Jinping, approved a plan to inject life into Chinese soccer.

Now that China has a soccer reform plan, what is needed is to work hard at it and be patient, Chinese experts told the Global Times.

Historic event

On October 7, 2001, 11-year-old footie fan Yu Yue travelled with his father from their home in North China's Shanxi Province to Northeast China's Liaoning Province to witness a historic moment for Chinese soccer.

The national soccer team qualified for the World Cup for the first time in its history, by winning their match against Oman that day.

Full of excitement, Yu said he felt a sense of honor when he joined the celebration march afterwards.

"But nobody would have imagined that after our three loses in the World Cup, Chinese soccer would stop developing and be haunted by scandals," Yu, now 27, told the Global Times on Monday.

To end this long period of frustration, the soccer reform plan was approved 13 years after that World Cup disappointment, which involves almost every aspect of the sport, including the management system, professional clubs, professional leagues, the national teams and grassroots soccer, the Xinhua News Agency reported.

The reform group also laid out an ambitious blueprint in April 2016 to get 50 million children and adults playing soccer by the end of the decade, with the ultimate goal of becoming a "world soccer power" by 2050.

Xi's tactics

China's soccer reform is being led by Xi personally, as the president is reportedly an avid soccer fan.

Meeting with FIFA president Gianni Infantino in Beijing on June 14, Xi said that the Chinese government attaches great importance to the development of soccer and has provided strong and consistent support for the sport, Xinhua reported.

Xi has laid out the tactics China will use, according to a Xinhua report.

"Reform is the core, the midfield engine of the tactic. Under the lead of the core, the defense backbone is systemic reform, as culture-building and field construction also work in the midfield, and the striker is the fostering of young players" said Xinhua.

"President Xi being concerned about soccer is good news for Chinese soccer, as his policies have brought new opportunities," Yu said.

"In Brazil, if you do not understand soccer, you would not be qualified to be the president," Wang Qi, the manager of the China Sports Industry Group, told the Global Times.

"In China, soccer is also the favorite and most important sport among people. The reforms of soccer are not only out of President Xi's own love of soccer, but also the sport is very influential in China," Wang noted.

Base of the pyramid

"We are promoting the philosophy of soccer among all of society. The reform of the sport's management system is also well under way. More efforts are being made in youth soccer programs, the construction of soccer pitches and international exchanges. We hope to raise the standard of Chinese soccer step by step, and lend support to the Chinese people's pursuit of the Chinese dream," Xi told Infantino.

In the past two years, the progress of the Chinese national team in World Cup qualification matches, together with the development of the country's soccer infrastructure, show that China is taking a long-term approach to the sport's development.

Yu believes that a virtuous circle is being built as professional soccer clubs make money and attract top overseas players, which leads to more Chinese people enjoying the sport and subsequently investing more in it.

"Campus soccer and the youth player training system is the base of the pyramid of soccer and national team is the pinnacle. More people getting involved will finally improve the achievements of Chinese soccer," Wang said.

"When we have a goal and plan for soccer reform, we must keep going and be patient, in three or five years, there  be some signs of the effect," Wang noted.


Newspaper headline: Goals goal


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