By Silvi writer
China has identified nearly 4,000 schools as “specializing” in youth football on Aug 9, stepping up efforts to realize the World Cup dreams of the country and, in particular, of its current leader Xi Jinping.
Beijing launched a grand school football program in 2015, after Xi expressed wished China to host and win the World Cup.
Its men’s national team has competed once only in the World Cup. After losing three matches to Costa Rica, Brazil and Turkey, at 0:2, 0:4, and 0:3 in 2002 in Japan and South Korea in 2002, it ranked the 31st place, out of all 32 nations.
The Chinese women’s team ranked the second in the USA World Cup Games in 1999, merely losing penalty shoot-outs against the host nation in the final. The team, however, has since then never made to the final.
Football, which is widely considered the world’s number one sport, remains a shame for many Chinese people.
Since coming to power in 2012, Xi, who known as a hardcore football fan, has repeatedly expressed his wish to turn the country a football powerhouse.
The government’s blueprint for developing the game set a target of having 20,000 soccer-themed schools in the country by 2020.
By February this year, 20,218 such schools were already in existence, compared to 5,000 in 2015, according to the Ministry of Education.
The central government has invested more than RMB 600 million yuan ($88 million) from 2015 to support the school football program, making it financially the biggest PE development project in the country’s history, according to Dongqiudi, China’s leading football news app.
In 2017, the Chinese Football Association released two policies designed to aid the development of homegrown talent – adjusting the appearance policy for players under the age of 23 in the Chinese Super League and China League One, and limiting the number of high-priced foreign players.
CSL clubs must now pay a levy equivalent to foreign player transfer fees costing 45 million yuan ($7 million) or more to a youth development fund, while the number of under-23 Chinese players that teams play must at least equal the number of foreigners on the pitch.
Teams also must have at least three under-23 players in their 18-man lineups and must start at least one of them.
But these efforts, or “huge strides in promoting football”, are under attack by many of the China’s football fans, for reasons that they believe officials are make “great leap forward” to purse short term gain.
“Embedding the culture of the game in China remains a formidable challenge,” a fan has pointed out on Dongqiudi.