China’s Grand Plan for Soccer Success

By | February 2, 2015

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.

China Soccer

(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.


“The Party’s Goal”, The Economist, December 13, 2014

Evan Asnos, “Is Corruption Souring China on Gold Medals?” The New Yorker, January 29, 2015

Category: China Tags:

About Connie Cai

I am a senior at Duke studying Biomedical Engineering. I played soccer recreationally as a kid, but unfortunately over the past 15 years I've lost my touch.

3 thoughts on “China’s Grand Plan for Soccer Success

  1. Laurent Dubois

    Interesting post, Connie! When I tweeted about it I got a reply from Tom Byer, the consultant mentioned in the Economist article. His role seems like it would be worth highlighting as well! Here’s a few articles he sent along to me about this.

    He apparently also has a history closer to home: he scored against Duke in 1982 in a soccer match played here, when he was playing for the University of South Florida…

  2. Paige Newhouse

    I would be interested to see if China has developed or is in the process of developing youth academies similar to those in Europe. Its great that China is expanding Soccer, but granted how they treat olympic athletes, will this actually benefit Chinese children/those who want to play soccer because they love the sport?

    This post reminded me of a documentary I watched about Chinese gymnastics prior to the 2008 Beijing Olympics – the government had placed young girls (if I can remember correctly – starting at age 5/6) in training facilities and expected them to train all hours of the day. These gymnasts were only allowed to see their parents a few times a month.

    Moreover, I hope this is not how China is expanding soccer – forcing young children to play or face consequences. It would be sad if China’s intentions are merely to increase their medal count.

    1. Derek (Yi) Wei

      Hi Paige,

      I think you definitely raised an very important point regarding the future development of China’s youth soccer athletes. I actually just had a chat with a friend who works at one of the top youth soccer academies in China and therefore was able to gain a few insights on this issue.

      So comparing with before, when most young soccer academies trained kids on outdated turfs and was old equipments, academies nowadays are much better in turns of facilities and environment they can provide to young players/trainee (thank to the big sponsorship by corporations such as Wanda). And there are indeed more emphasis on academic education before. However, the majorities of kids’ time are still spend on soccer practice, and the academic class is more like a formality thing during which most kids either sleep through or just don’t really pay attention. And the teachers don’t really care neither, as they know these kids just wanna play soccer.

      Therefore, it’s actually kind of sad to see that after those years, even though the training environment has became better, those future professional soccer player wannabees in China are still betting all of their future on soccer. And I definitely think this system would need to be improved.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *