President Xi kicks off ‘beautiful game’




File photo taken in February 2012 shows Xi Jinping kicks a Gaelic football as he visits the

headquarters of the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) in Ireland.   Photo - Xinhua






BEIJING  |   2015-03-01 15:06:51


President Xi

kicks off

‘beautiful game’


By Gao Peng



Chinese President Xi Jinping is confronting a challenge no less daunting than the anti-corruption campaign he spearheads in his party – to boost the nation’s soccer competence on the world stage.

China’s central reform group, chaired by Xi, approved a plan on Friday of February 27 to boost the level of Chinese soccer, which has been for years a source of embarrassment.

“We must develop and revitalize soccer to ensure we are a strong nation of sports,” according to a statement issued after a meeting of the central reform leading group.

“It is the desperate desire of the people as well.”

In stark contrast to its huge success in many other sports, China has been struggling in soccer for decades and only ever qualified for the World Cup once, in 2002, when the team was eliminated at the group stage without scoring a single goal. Since then, the Chinese team fared poorly despite efforts to bring in world-class coaches like Bobby Houghton and ex-Real Madrid manager Jose Antonio Camacho. Its most recent humiliating performance was a 5-1 loss to Thailand’s Under-23 side in 2013.

Xi, an avid soccer fan, is apparently unpleased with the national team’s play. Stating his personal ambitions for China in 2011, he listed three, all about soccer: To qualify for the World Cup again, to host the event and finally, to win it someday.

The president also took time during his first state visit to Germany last year to watch a match in Berlin between Chinese and German teenage players and told Chinese youngsters that he hoped to see a star would emerge from them in the future.

A question often asked is: with a huge population of roughly 1.4 billion, why can’t China pick 11 people to form a strong team. Some say it’s the size of soccer population to blame, as China has only 30,000 registered players, against 6.8 million in Germany and over 1.5 million in Brazil.

“Success in soccer is much related to the population of regular players,” said Wang Jianlin, chairman of Dalian Wanda Group, the owner of a former Chinese top-flight soccer club. “Maybe one out of every 10 kids involved in soccer has the caliber to become a professional player.”

Now, the top Chinese leadership is determined to do something about it.

“More efforts should be made at the grassroots level to nurture young talents and to ensure the integration of professional clubs, school teams and amateur teams,” said the statement by the central reform leading group.

China must overcome its “defective system”, which has impeded its progress in soccer, and provide better “institutional guarantees” for its development, added the statement.

Action has been taken already. In November 2014, the Ministry of Education declared soccer a compulsory part of the national curriculum and announced an ambitious plan that includes the installation of pitches and training facilities at 20,000 schools by 2017 with the goal of getting more than 100,000 kids engaged in the game.

And, there are already signs of recovery. Last month, China won three straight group games at the Asian Cup, for the first time in their 11 appearances in the continent’s premier event, before going down 2-0 to hosts and eventual champions Australia in the quarter-finals.

China’s Internet has been abuzz over the government’s enthusiasm and determination to raise the standard of Chinese soccer

“Spring is coming for Chines soccer,” said a blogger named “Cloud in the sky”. “It may not be long until China qualifies for the World Cup again.”

“As the government takes soccer seriously and starts to put in efforts, China will be a world power in the game,” wrote one poster on China’s Twitter-like Sina Weibo.





Chinese President Xi Jinping watches children playing football during a children’s activity

in Beijing, on May 29, 2013.   Photo by Li Xueren


Chinese President Xi Jinping and his wife Peng Liyuan pose for a group photo with Chinese kid

footballers and their German peers from the Wolfsburg club in Berlin, Germany, on March 29,

2014.   Photo by Lan Hongguang


Chinese President Xi Jinping (center) visits Chinese kid footballers from Zhidan county in China’s

northwestern province of Shaanxi, who are being trained in Berlin by their German coaches,

in Berlin, Germany, on March 29, 2014.   Photo by Lan Hongguang


Chinese President Xi Jinping (center of front row) and his wife Peng Liyuan (3rd from left of front row)

watch a friendship match between Chinese kid footballers and their German peers from the Wolfsburg

club in Berlin, Germany, on March 29, 2014.   Photo by Lan Hongguang








BEIJING  |  2015-03-01 17:51:43


When will China

bid for World Cup?


By Li Jia, Gong Bing and Wang Haofei



For hundreds of millions of Chinese soccer fans including President Xi Jinping, hosting a World Cup is the most common wish. But a consensus is yet to be reached on when to lodge a bid.

In 2010, then Chinese soccer chief Wei Di proposed to bid for the 2026 World Cup but the idea was dropped due to lack of government support.

But after an “overall soccer reform plan” was approved on Friday of February 27 by China’s central reform group, chaired by President Xi, talks about World Cup bid went rife again.

“It will probably hasten China’s race for a World Cup,” said Ding Changbao, head of the Football Association of Zhidan, a county in west China’s Shaanxi Province.

Ding had met Xi last year when the Chinese president took time during his first state visit to Germany to watch a junior game in Berlin between Germans and young players from Zhidan.

Song Jixin, sports chief of Jilin, believes that China will benefit “in many aspects” from being a World Cup host.

“Apart from making profits, staging the World Cup will be a great boost to Chinese soccer,” he said.

Song’s view was echoed by Jin Shan, director of sports culture at the Beijing Institute of Social Sciences.

“Japan and South Korea set a good example for China as the jointly-held 2002 World Cup helped raise the standard of their own game,” said Jin.

While pundits believe China should bid soon, others fear that poor play from their national team would take gloss off the host country.

“Judging from the current standard of the Chinese team, they are very likely to be eliminated after the group stage even if China qualify for the World Cup finals as the host country. So what’s the difference (from not bidding)?” a fan wrote in his blog.

Gregorio Manzano, head coach of Chinese Super League side Beijing Guo’an, had a different opinion.

“China should not wait any longer to bid for the World Cup. Hosting a World Cup will be a good chance to improve Chinese soccer,” said Manzano, who had successful stints in Spanish clubs including Malloca and Atletico Madrid.

“You should not care about win or lose, the most important thing is participating.

“Spain hosted the 1982 World Cup and didn’t win the trophy, but that experience boosted the development of their league and cultivation of talents,” added the 58-year-old Spaniard.

Song, Jilin sports head, also criticized the results-oriented mentality. “We should not be obsessed with the results any more. It will add to the burden on the team,” he said.

The Chinese men’s team qualified for the World Cup only once – in 2002, when they were eliminated at the group stage without scoring a single goal.

President Xi, an avid soccer fan, is apparently unpleased with the national team’s play. Stating his personal ambitions for China in 2011, he listed three, all about soccer: To qualify for the World Cup again, to host the event and finally, to win it someday.









BEIJING  |   2015-03-01 13:15:17


Chinese ‘invade’

European football


By Wang Jingyu



Wang Jianlin



Chinese billionaires have started invading European football by making purchasing deals with top clubs, looking to gain influence in the “beautiful game” and help China raise its standard.

Within one month before China’s central reform group, captained by Chinese President Xi Jinping, approved a plan to revive the game on Friday of February 27, Chinese had sealed the deal with clubs in Spain, the Netherlands and France.

Wang Jianlin (王健林), the owner of Dalian Wanda Group, announced on January 21 that he had bought a 20 percent stake of Spanish champion Atletico de Madrid with 52 million U.S. dollars.

Two days later, China’s United Vansen International Sports Corporation made it public that they had almost finished the purchase of Dutch club Alles Door Oefening Den Haag.

Early in February, Dalian Wanda made a second daring move in three weeks by acquiring Swiss sports marketing company Infront Sports & Media in a deal valued at about 1.2 billion U.S. dollars.

Then came the news of a Hong Kong listed electrical components manufacturer, Tech Pro Technology Development company, in the middle of negotiation to buy French club Sochaux from the Peugeot car company.

“I believe those investments in sports industry and European football clubs are related to the deepening reform of football and sports in China,” said Lu Hao, chairman of D & F Capital Management Co. LTD.

“Cultural and sports industry is able to play a very important role in the economic transformation of China and the government has given various signals to encourage the development of sports industry since last year.

“I believe more Chinese companies will invest in football clubs and sports in China and abroad.”

According to Xue Lei, a professor from the School of Economics and Management of Tsinghua University, club-purchasing deals were more for the sake of investment than football.

“The flow of Chinese capital has gone through great change recently, and the European football clubs seem to be a very good subject to the investors,” he said.

Wang Jianlin appeared to be the most ambitious among the investors enticed by the riches and glamour of European football. Following the deals with Atletico de Madrid and Infront, they were reported to be flirting with Italian powerhouse AC Milan.

Wanda, founded in 1988 and known for its real estate success, has started to shift its focus to service, entertainment and tourism while sport is going to weigh in Wanda’s transformation.

Wanda had owned China’s top professional team Dalian Wanda but sold the club in 2000 over disillusionment with a league rife with corruption and scandals.

“Taking into consideration of Wanda’s transformation, their recent investments were not surprising,” said Lu Hao.

“Wang Jianlin had a successful experience with football club and he is able to smell changes in Chinese economy and understands the importance of sports industry.”

Wang also admitted that the purchase of Infront might help China’s potential bid for the World Cup.

Infront’s “rich and valuable resources” in football might help China eventually realize the dreams of “qualifying for a World Cup again, hosting a World Cup and winning a World Cup”, said Wang.

The Chinese government has shown determination and confidence in a revival of football, a sport that has been embarrassing the nation with poor results and scandals.

“We must develop and revitalize football to ensure we are a strong nation of sports,” vowed the statement which was issued after a meeting of the central reform leading group on Friday.









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