By Trilok Sharma–Not because the current Chinese President Xi Jinping is a football enthusiast, so he wants his nation to be football superpower in near future. But because of President Xi’s clear understanding of how the promotion of soft power components – sport, language, culture, history, delicacies, music, tourism and so on could play pivotal role in creating the positive image of China in the global stage. The United States is open book in this context.
And, undoubtedly like all others projects, the another major reason behind this Chinese dream is directly related with economy gain. President Xi’s 10-year plan (2015-2025) is to create a Chinese sports economy worth $ 850bn which is more than twice than the entire global sports economy which roughly values at about $400bn.
Unveiling the strategy
Inspired by one after another successful domination in short span of time in Olympic gold medal tally, now China is in a rush to show the same magic in football world too.
After in-depth research by experts, in last year April President Xi unveiled his strategy via Chinese Football Association to become a “ a first-class world football superpower” by 2050, with plan to get 50 million children and adults playing the game by 2020 in 20,000 football training centers and 70,000 pitches across the country.
Even before unveiling this strategy football enthusiast President Xi had already once expressed his deep desire to see China wining World Cup in next 15 years.
The strategy has also clearly outlined the short, medium and long-term goals, including ensuring there is one football pitch for every 10,000 people by 2030. And, has also expected by that time to have Chinese men’s football team to be one of the best team in Aisa and female football team to be in rank of world class team.
Most popular sport
If the word “popular” is used to refer these three phrases – ‘most watched sports,’ ‘most played sports’ or ‘most revenue-generating sport,’ no matter which country publishes the list, football tops the list.
At present football is played in over 200 countries by 250 million players and enjoys the most number of fans with 3.3-3.5 billion all over the world. Each Fifa World Cup, the biggest competition of football which is held in every four years is believed to be watched by more than 3 billion people across the globe. Therefore, it is not unfair to say that the number of people who follow the sport regularly and watch its global as well as regional competitions is unmatched.
Beyond the sport itself, unlike other sports football has unique ability to bind the country people from all backgrounds making them more patriotic. One can easily notice the obsession, love and pride of people for their country when their nation is either hosting or competing in World Cup or in any other international tournaments.
Both overtly and covertly, the preparation is going on at pace within the border and outside the border.
Parents in China in general prefer their children to complete their studies and enter in government service or do own business rather than trying their luck in sport. But as country now wants to take leap in football, in order to improve playing standards the country has put football in their school curriculum and is endeavoring in building western style soccer campuses. Reason behind is bringing out and sharpening the football skills as well as to prepare the students to make entry in university.
Private sector is also doing their part honestly. There are noticeable signs that investment by private firms in the Chinese domestic football market is making progress.
Over the past couple of year Chinese investors and firms have quietly been acquiring stakes in European football clubs, hoping to tap their coaching and marketing expertise to foster their homegrown talent. And, now after last year President Xi’s announcement, they are more open up in their dealings, getting more media coverage with the latest one of a world record- shattering £256.6m bid from an unnamed club from the Chinese Super League that offered an £85m-a-year salary for the transfer of football legend Cristiano Ronaldo from Real Madrid.
Chances to happen
For only ever qualified for one football World Cup in 2002 and current 82nd in the Fifa world rankings out of 204 nations, the dream to be ‘football powerhouse’ is indeed ‘big’ but achievable as officially atheist China has no word like ‘luck’ or ‘mercy of God’ in her dictionary.
“I think China can win a World Cup. It has the resources, scale, and state backing to fast forward 150 years of football development into 10 years” says Simon Chadwick, a professor, ‘guru’ of sport management and chair of sport business at Coventry University Business School, UK.
However, many sport critics have expressed doubt in President Xi’s great Chinese soccer team dream as China lacks historical roots in football and has already failed twice in its efforts in the 1980s and 1990s to bring breakthrough in home soccer team.
No matter who will be right- Prof Chadwick or sport critics, but one thing is clear from previous aspiration of China to excel in Olympic that neither the Chinese leadership nor the local businessmen nor the general public is going to take nap without helping their country to ascend in a position where it is respected globally as a part of the international football community as now it is not only their respected President Xi’s dream but their dream too.
(Sharma holds Masters in Conflict, Peace & Dev. Studies, TU)