Uruguayan sports chief talks about bilateral cooperation in fitness, training, and more

By Sun Haoran Source:Global Times Published: 2020/1/5 17:33:39

Editor's Note:

China and Uruguay established diplomatic relations in 1988 and over the past three decades their bilateral ties have witnessed great progress and been continuously deepened. 

Chinese President Xi Jinping and Uruguayan President Tabare Vazquez held a meeting and decided to establish China-Uruguay strategic partnership based on mutual respect in 2016. The two countries are highly complementary in various fields and have great potential for cooperation, particularly in terms of sports. As a soccer powerhouse, Uruguay has a lot of know-how that China can learn from. They recently established a second Uruguayan soccer base in Qingdao, East China's Shandong Province (the first one is in Tangshan, North China's Hebei Province) during Caceres' visit. The base aims to train China's future soccer talents and enhance China's level in this field.

Global Times reporter Sun Haoran (GT) talked to Uruguayan Sports Secretary Fernando Caceres (Caceres) on Uruguayan experience in soccer, the Qingdao soccer base, China-Uruguay sports cooperation and more.

Fernando Caceres, Uruguayan Sports Secretary Photo: Courtesy of Uruguayan Embassy in Beijing

GT: As a two-time World Cup winner and a soccer powerhouse, what do you think are the major reasons Uruguay can keep a strong presence in the world of soccer?

One of the reasons why Uruguay has been able to remain at a high international level is its historical and cultural reasons which are much related to the diaspora moving to Uruguay. Uruguay is a country of immigrants. 

Soccer was born in the UK and we adopted that, but we took it even further and it became a really integral part of our society. Uruguay was the World Cup champion in two occasions and it had also won the gold medal during the Olympic Games in 1924 and 1928 before the World Cup existed. This put Uruguay at a very high entry level. This historical legacy helped build a very strong cultural identity since Uruguay as a country was very young. 

The second reason is that children in Uruguay start to play soccer at a very young age allowing them to develop a really strong connection with soccer. They usually spend two or three times per week training, not only learning the techniques of soccer playing but also the culture behind this sport, such as the positive values soccer can bring to the society, which helps these children to have a broader perspective on life. 

Moreover, the system has to be aligned with this approach as well. Therefore, Uruguay has a very systematic way of implementing this program for young and older soccer players. There is continuity in the trainees, trainers and people related to the activity.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       

GT: What do you think China can learn from Uruguay's success in soccer? Could you specify how Uruguay and China will cooperate in soccer in the future?

Every single country has to find its own way of developing soccer internally. I think that one of the aspects that interests China about Uruguayan soccer is the culture I mentioned just now and how we develop programs for the young soccer players. That's why we identified soccer bases in schools as a way to encourage young Chinese players to follow this path of creating an identity and culture around soccer to support the growth of these players at a very young age. 

Until now, one of the biggest cooperation projects between Uruguay and China included sending soccer trainers to come here [to China] to train young kids locally. But this is going to have certain validity in time because we won't be able to supply the demand. 

We need to find other types of projects. This is what we are trying to do next, specifically. We don't only want to train the children, but also shift the focus to train the trainers who will later be able to train these future soccer players. 

This is relevant since there are certain limitations in having Uruguay on soccer trainers coming to China. It takes a lot of money, investment and energy from the Uruguayan side, so we are not able to fulfill this high demand from China. 

GT: Luis Suárez and Edinson Cavani are among the top Uruguayan soccer stars. They started playing overseas at very early age. Do you think the same approach of sending young players overseas would work for China?

This can be seen in different ways. Even though Suárez and Cavani are really famous soccer players in the world and they played and trained abroad, it doesn't mean that they didn't receive any soccer education in Uruguay when they were young. 

Actually they grew up in a city of 100,000 people in the north of Uruguay called Salto and trained together, so there was a really strong foundation in those two soccer players, which is something that soccer players need to further develop their skills in the future.

GT: Why did Uruguay choose Qingdao to establish its second soccer base in China? What functions do the new base have and what role do you think it can play for China's soccer?

Further enhancing soccer ties between Uruguay and China is following the path that has already been established by our authorities in 2016. The strategic partnership was established between Xi and Vazquez to further promote bilateral relations. It is really necessary to promote cooperation in sports, and this is being translated into the second base of Uruguayan soccer in China. 

Basically, Qingdao has a lot of potential to become a really good center for soccer here in China as they have one of the best soccer teams in the country and they need to keep localizing their soccer. Qingdao is also a coastal and industrialized city, which means they have very good connection with the rest of the world. 

For us, to establish the second base in Qingdao was not only because the Uruguayan side wanted it that way, it was also initiated by the Qingdao side.  

GT: How do you think the two countries can cooperate in other fields of sports besides soccer?

The relationship between Uruguay and China in terms of sports is a bit uneven at the moment, because four out of five Uruguayan athletes choose soccer in Uruguay. Even though we have 65 federations of sports, most of them chose to go for soccer. So Uruguay is strong in soccer but is lacking in other sports disciplines. China is really strong because it has been able to diversify its fields of sports, such as table tennis, gymnastics and swimming. 

Therefore, Uruguay and China complement each other very well especially since China needs to further develop its soccer and Uruguay has a lot to contribute. Uruguay hopes to receive the same contribution back from China in other disciplines, especially those we need to learn from this country.

GT: The 2020 Tokyo Olympics is approaching. Do you have any expectations for the Uruguayan delegation's medal count?

We don't really have high expectations about the Tokyo Olympics in terms of medals because Uruguay is not focusing on obtaining them. We focus more on the progress that athletes are able to make throughout the training. In addition, athletes in Uruguay don't face ideal conditions. 

The economic support needed for this event can be a limitation, especially since athletes need to travel to participate in this kind of high-level tournament.

Newspaper headline: China and Uruguay as athletic partners


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