For the past decade, China has been considered a rising power in political, economic, and numerous other spheres. But in terms of men’s soccer, this country performs dismally at best. For most Chinese citizens, China’s performance in men’s soccer is considered a national embarrassment. Currently, the Chinese Men’s National Team is ranked 96 – for reference, the U.S.’s Men’s National Team is ranked 27 (interestingly, the Chinese Women’s soccer team is doing much better, currently ranked 14). China shares the 96th ranking with Latvia, yet the population of China is over 690 times larger than that of Latvia. And over the past few years China has invested in expensive foreign coaches, such as Alain Perrin (from France) and Jose Camacho (from Spain). Based on these simple facts, at first glance it would appear that the issue is not a lack of people to play soccer or a lack of coaching talent. So what really is the issue? This chart from an article about the topic in The Economist shows the decline in China’s football rankings.
(Image from here.)
As a huge fan of men’s soccer, China’s President Xi Jinping is trying to figure out why their men’s national team can’t seem to win. Part of the explanation is the fact that Chinese soccer has been riddled with corruption, bribes, and match fixing. But this is slowly improving in China, due to Jinping’s overall push against corruption and dishonesty in the Chinese government. Players and referees are now chosen more justly and objectively, due to the actions of the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI), China’s anti-corruption governmental agency. The CCDI itself attributes the team’s recent soccer victories due to its actions, which have in total removed nine soccer officials, four judges, thirteen players and coaches, and seventeen other soccer staff members.
But as a more holistic approach aimed at improving China’s soccer performance, on November 27, 2014, China announced that soccer is now a required activity for all of its students, as a new addition to the national curriculum. The government’s goal is to introduce 100,000 new players to the sport by 2017, and to achieve this they are building new football fields and training facilities for 20,000 schools around the country. Furthermore, to counteract any hesitation or criticism experienced by parents, who would rather have their children studying for academic tests and improving their grades in preparation for college, in 2016, soccer will be an option for students taking the national university entrance exam.
Interestingly, this new plan for soccer performance has come at a time when Chinese officials have stated that they have stopped obsessing over the medal count at the Olympics. The pressure to win has been greatly reduced for Olympic athletes right at the moment when it appears that the pressure to win is building for soccer players.
So will this grand plan for Chinese soccer work? Chinese officials have stated that they are first focusing on children in order to improve future soccer performance. Therefore the results of this plan won’t really be visible until a few years down the road. But still, hopefully this plan can fulfill Jinping’s three dreams to qualify for, host, and win a World Cup.