Soccer is huge in China

By Katrin Büchenbacher Source:Global Times Published: 2018/7/2 15:13:39

Illustration: Peter C. Espina/GT


Mentioning China and soccer at the same time happens as often as Trump and Kim Jong-un meet for afternoon tea. Chinese are well-known for their table tennis and badminton skills. They also excel in the Olympic disciplines of swimming, diving and weightlifting. But soccer? Nope. The two words are almost a contradiction.

Few people consider the fact that China did not qualify for the World Cup this year sensational. It's a running gag in China to make fun of the national soccer team. FIFA ranks them 75th worldwide; the last big losses to Wales and the Czech Republic demonstrated it vividly.

However, those who think no Chinese bats an eyelash about the wins and losses in Russia are terribly wrong. Soccer is huge in China!

It's not surprising then that taxi drivers in Beijing usually ask me about the Swiss national team player Shaqiri before they even mention the watches and banks. Chinese follow the World Cup with the same eagerness, even if it means staying up until four in the morning on a workday. Social media, TV and the press are taken over by it. Online soccer bets are all the rage, and the fact that Chinese law forbids gambling does not seem to concern anyone.

Before the Swiss game against Brazil, some Chinese friends asked for my assessment. Over the years that I have lived abroad, I slowly developed a sense of patriotism which forbids me from advising them to bet on Brazil.

"It's going to be even, at least," I told them. I was right. Well done, Swiss "Nati" (what we lovingly call our national team).

China's most popular sports news site praised Switzerland after that game.

"Even though Felipe Coutinho scored the first goal with a beautiful long shot, the Swiss still mowed them down stubbornly," they wrote.

My Chinese friend, Andy, a sports journalist, got quite annoyed with Switzerland before the World Cup. His team was trying to build an app, but the Swiss national flag in its square form prevented them from progressing.

"Why can't the Swiss flag be rectangular, just like every other nation's flag?" he asked me. Swiss tradition, I'm sorry.

But China isn't satisfied with its position on the sidelines. Chinese soccer is expected to edge its way into the world leading teams by 2050, according to a plan released by China's National Development and Reform Commission in April.

However, a handful of clever people insist that China is already an essential part of the World Cup this year. Where else are all the balls, jerseys, and souvenirs produced?

The newspaper with the most readers in Switzerland, called "20 minutes," boldly headlined that China is the superpower of the World Cup among its sponsors, as five out of the 16 sponsors are Chinese corporations. Wanda, Hisense, Vivo, Luci, a virtual reality company, and Mengniu, a dairy producer, complete the list of China's big five World Cup sponsors. These companies want to reach consumers in China who eagerly follow the matches. At the same time, they seem to be sending a signal to the world. "China and football are no longer a contradiction. You'd better get used to that combination!"

This article was published on the Global Times Metropolitan section Two Cents page, a space for reader submissions, including opinion, humor and satire. The ideas expressed are those of the author alone, and do not represent the position of the Global Times.




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