In what is possibly the most consequential piece of policy reform released by the Chinese government recently, Beijing unveiled a sweeping reform and development plan yesterday that promises to finally address one of China’s most glaring and humiliating weakness—the sport of football.
As outlined by Xinhua, the plan establishes short-term, middle-term, and long-term goals and seeks to enhance not only Chinese player’s skills and the national team’s performance, but football’s popularity in China. After all shouldn’t the world’s most populous country be good at the world’s most popular sport? It just makes sense.
The plan, no doubt endorsed by football super-fan and current president Xi Jinping, also calls for China to host the World Cup… someday in the future. They are looking into it. It’s in the long-term goals category. Russia has hosting duties for 2018 and Qatar called dibs on 2022. So, Beijing 2026?
China is pretty great at a whole bunch of other (somewhat less popular) sports, but football, not so much. Currently, the men’s national team is ranked 83rd worldwide (or seventh-best in Asia!), and has only qualified for just one World Cup final, in 2002, when they then failed to score a single goal and were eliminated in the group stage. The women’s team was the surprise runner-up in the 1999 World Cup, but has fallen off a bit since, failing to qualify in 2011.
The current situation isn’t sitting well with Chinese football fans, most importantly President Xi, who made his “Three Wishes for Chinese Football” back in 2011: “to qualify for the World Cup, to host the World Cup, and to win the World Cup.”
In order to one day grant Xi’s wishes the plan has attached a great deal of importance to developing young talent and football will be added into the compulsory curriculum in elementary and middle schools across the country. The number of schools specializing in football will also quadruple from 5,000 to 20,000 in 2020. Additionally, football will start to be used as an “educational tool.” You know, like these nifty text books rolled out last week.
A Xinhua editorial couldn’t be more excited about the reform plan, deeming it a milestone and an unprecedented strategy that is just one part of the comprehensive deep reform taking place in Chinese society.
Honestly, we are a little skeptical about the plan after seeing the photos publicizing the new football drills for school kids. Might need a bit of tinkering, but give it time. Meanwhile, Chinese people can just continue to live out their World Cup fantasies in other ways.
by Alex Linder
[Images via ChinaNews]