Beijing — Seeking to close a glaring gap in its
international sporting prowess, China has announced an ambitious football
development plan that envisions 50 million players joining in the game by the
end of the decade and the transformation of the country into a "first-rate
major footballing power" by the middle of the century.
To achieve those goals, China will put into service 70,000
football pitches, including those newly built and others refurbished, according
to a lengthy document released late Monday by the Chinese Football Association.
The initiative especially targets long-neglected youth
programs, with more than 30 million primary and secondary schools to play
regularly, and the training of 10,000 coaches. It would also more than double
the number of specialized academies to 20,000.
The plan is to be rolled out in three stages, with the short
term goals set for 2020, midterm for 2030 and long-term for 2050. No figures
were given on how much the government plans to spend on the project.
The aim, the document says, is to "strive to realize
the goal of becoming a first-rate major footballing power, realize the
all-around development of Chinese football, fulfill the football dream of the
sons and daughters of China, and fulfill our obligations to world
Despite its success in other sports at the Olympics and
other global competitions, China has been a perennial underperformer in
international football. Its men's team has qualified for only one World Cup
finals competition, in 2002, and is given poor odds of making it to Russia in
A recent $300 million splurge to bring big-name foreign
talent to the Chinese Premier League has raised the level of play among
top-flight domestic clubs. It's far from clear though, whether their skills
will rub-off on local talent. Of the 16 goals scored in the league's opening round,
not one could be attributed to a homegrown Chinese player and the influx of
overseas goal-scoring talent could further reduce local players' chances to
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Despite that, President Xi Jinping has made boosting Chinese
football's fortunes a top sporting priority, ordering the cabinet to help guide
the plan announced Monday and demanding results.
As befits a document produced by a Communist Party-led
government accustomed to dictating top-down solutions, the plan comes laden
with political jargon and patriotic exhortations.
Football "is an important vessel of the national
spirit. Football has an important education function that benefits the
propagation of socialist core values," the document said.
Despite the government's encouragement, analysts questioned
whether parents would be willing to allow what is often their only child to
spend more time on sports programs that take time away from their studies.
While football is hugely popular in China, participation in the sport is not as
deeply embedded in the culture as in European nations, they said.
"It is very hard to buy such success in a team sport,
not only football, because such sports are deeply anchored in popular culture
and have everything to do with little kids playing them from when they start to
walk," wrote Andrei Markovits, a professor of comparative politics at the
University of Michigan and author of "Gaming the World: How Sports Are
Reshaping Global Politics and Culture."
"In other words, one cannot 'plan' these things from
above like one can individual sports," Markovits wrote in a comment on the
Chinese football plan.
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