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China's 'great leap forward' - time for football to follow the same path

Dr Jing Feng

Posted: August 1, 2014

With German football player Mario Götze’s goal, the 2014 World Cup closed its curtains and had a perfect ending. Throughout the World Cup, numerous Chinese football fans waited for every football match of the World Cup, ignoring the time difference. Thel fans cheered and celebrated for their favourite teams. There were even more “fake” football fans joining the fun by buying sport lottery tickets or gambling on the scores of each mach. Under the circumstances, there were many questions for Chinese football fans to ask. The Chinese football governing bodies would do well to think about them:  when could China host a World Cup? When might Chinese football qualify the World Cup again? As the first professionalized and market-oriented sport game in China, where should Chinese football go?

Different people have different answers. The current Chinese president, Xi Jinping, has reiterated to the public several times that he is a football fan. He “encouraged” Cai Zhenhua (a former table tennis champion and experienced table tennis coach, now the Deputy Director of the National Sport Administration and the newly-appointed director of the Chinese Football Association) that “now you are in command of Chinese Football Association, we will expect and see”. People also have a belief that since the President Xi loves football, it is definitely the platform upon which football improvements can be made. One has to ask though, is can’t football be developed in the same way as the “Great-Leap Forward”? The authority’s expectation is important. However, the worry is that local government sport organisations may come to be directly affected by how they interpret central policies and the central authority’s ideas and intentions.  It will be a horrible “motivation” or “driving force” if the practical football revival policies and measurements are simply the result of the centralist authority’s personal goals.

The development process for Chinese football has to be long-term and systematic. It will not, and cannot, be developed by any one, single force or authority.  To realize the development of Chinese football, it is imperative that physical education becomes a much more important component of Chinese society. Only then will it be more realistic to promote football in China in a natural bottom-up and reasonable way. It is extremely important to have more grassroots football amateurs and provide enough public facilities for people to exercise and practice. This is needed to ensure central policy will not be fragmented by local sport organisations and local government sport bodies. Moreover, it is vital that central policy does not become too malleable and difficult to predict. In particular, it is necessary to leave the market, football clubs and the League to promote the domestic professional football themselves, by providing more ‘clean’, exciting games and establishing a formal and normative mechanism for the League to function – which would then leave the Chinese National Football Team to realize the objective of winning honours for the country.

However, is it a shame if Chinese football has a low ranking in the world? We develop sport not for glory now. We develop it for fun, for joy, for health, and for lifelong hobby. It is a long way to go for most and even all Chinese people to realize this.

About Dr Jing Feng

Dr Jing Feng works at Jianxin University of Finance and Economics, Nanchang, China.