This week China formally announced their desire to qualify as a host for the next FIFA World Cup.In order to achieve this; the state has agreed to provide substantial funding and an ambitious plan.
So far, football has been of little cultural importance in China. Although it has been the most popular spectator sports in the country, their local teams have not gained much success on an international level. Indeed, during the 2012 Olympic Games, China took away 38 Gold medals thus demonstrating their global excellence across a range of competitive sports; however football does not feature amongst their strengths.
To say that they are starting from nothing would be an exaggeration. Although China is only ranked 83rd in the global FIFA rankings, they did make the quarter final of the Asian Cup earlier this year. However, many Chinese publications have admitted that their football achievements are disappointing for such a powerful economy. The China Daily stated that the country’s “soccer performances have been sadly lacking on the international stage”.
Chinese leaders have now decided to go to great length to amend this. As stated by the Guardian, a lot of their policies are directed towards redressing the reputation of Football. In the past, match fixing scandals have tarnished the perception of Chinese football. Football was also associated a sleazy culture of illegal gambling and the government has been working towards promoting a healthier “grassroots” version of this sports within the country since 2009. Sporting betting is illegal in China even if top operators like William Hill or Bet365 have tried to infiltrate this market. Therefore, bookmakers have to operate secretly and often employ fraudulent tactics.
In light of this, corruption and criminality has been tackled hard. In the past 5 years, many coaches, footballers or club workers were imprisoned for their illegal acts. This reactionary line has also been followed up with efforts to make football more popular amongst young people. Schools are encouraged to promote sports through the syllabus and after school clubs. There is also an emphasis on cultivating a football culture within large corporations. However, efforts have not been very successful on a grass roots level. Allegedly, the secretary-general of the Chinese Football Association suggested there were approximately 190,000 students signed up for local sports centre in 2014 but reports that this is less than 1/3 of those enrolled in 1995.
Beyond this, the latest plans are to make the Chinese Football Association an independent nongovernmental organisation with more power than it currently holds. Moreover, plans for a more sophisticated league system are being drafted in order to create a legitimate framework for Chinese football. This is a very important step as one of China’s major hurdles has been the consistent bureaucratic inefficiency. Hopefully, the re-structuring of football bodies will address this directly and produce noticeable changes in due course.
Unsurprisingly, Experts have predicted that China’s climb to victory will be a slow process. There is no denying that they have a lot to overcome at this stage. However, with a global power like China truly anything is possible.