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Chinese Football: The aftermath of failure

Recent clippings from have covered the disappointments of the Chinese national side. Campaigns for the 2011 Asian Cup, London 2012, and Brazil 2014 have, in the words of sports journalist Zhuǎnzài, left Chinese soccer “dead.” Some may argue that Chinese football has reached its lowest point in history; others that the reality of Chinese football infrastructure and its capabilities have finally been realized. Regardless, Chinese football is evolving and it is up to the organization and industry to enhance its development.

Many pundits have been liberal in offering opinions, often distributing blame, and occasionally presenting a solution. One in particular is Zhuanzai, who writes in prose, from an elevated yet holistic perspective on Chinese football. Perhaps brash in his opinion, if we look past exaggeration we find an honest and thoughtful take on Chinese football. In Zhuǎn’s emphatic blog entry he states that from the ashes there is still one hope for the nation to again enjoy the beautiful game. Play! 

Below is a translated version of the article from his Sina blog.

Let the kids play. In China, City kids seldom have time amid demanding schedules, countryside children lack equipment and leadership to organize.

No more illusion! No more reasons! If we want to stop self-delusion, if Chinese football really wants to be revived, there is only one way for Chinese football: “play” from kids!

To do this: First, introduce football to the schools in urban and rural areas, increasing the playing population and bring the joy of the game back to the people. Thus saving football from suffering the utilitarian model (i.e. winning at all costs). In essence, bring back the nature of football.

It has been proven that there is a dead end for utilitarian football. The statistics have shown this (Chinese football registered population is only 8,000 people, among them there are 7,000 teenagers, the female population is only 400 people) It is an undeniable result that Chinese football is dying! (based on much larger numbers from ten years ago)

We are a country of one billion, three hundred million, yet so few of the people are fully engaged in the so-called global sport. What can we learn from this?

Firstly, it is not true that Chinese people love football! Secondly, football in China was never a popular sport, even not in the top ten popular sports! Thirdly, Chinese football association has not executed its duty; management and administration should be separate! Fourth, Chinese football fans “Ye gong hao long”(This idiom satirizes those who profess to like or support something, but are averse to it in actual practice.), they only watch but few play, this phenomenon is impossible among competitive football countries.

The list goes on, but we must also consider what is neglected by the masses, thinking from their perspective: whether this phenomenon is normal or not. Should we try to falsify or prove its validity?

 There is a philosophical sentence: whatever is, is right. Why would the extremely decreasing of football population in China be unreasonable, and why has this phenomenon lasted for more then ten years? If football in China was loved so sincerely in the last generation how could the football population become increasingly less?

Many people blame the CFA and its eccentric system. They also blame the match-fixing and dark image of the football world. These are only superficial reasons. At least there are two reasons which might be overlooked easily, both of which have placed restrictions on the development of Chinese football population.

Firstly, the disadvantages are clear, but it seems we still cannot find a way to replace examination-oriented education method, the constant demand from both schools and families leave kids with little chance to get in touch with football.

Secondly, years of real estate overdevelopment have occupied and limited space for public playgrounds, which leaves children few places to play football. CFA have never counted the amount of playgrounds and parks in China’s playing areas. A scarce amount of playground in China can only meet the needs of a scarce football population. Where is the room for expansion?

Put other problems aside, focus on the above two issues and we are left with simple descriptions. “You Mi Wu Guo” (there is no pot to cook the rice-i.e. there is nothing that resembles the sports mantra~ if you build it, they will come) If these two problems have not been solved the revolution of Chinese football is like “Chi Ren Shuo Meng” (talking trash in a fool’s paradise).

Chinese football is falling whereas the Chinese economy is developing. There is no direct relationship between those two, but the development of Chinese football has not benefited from the country’s economic development. The problems of examination-oriented education system, overdevelopment of real estate, parents pampering their kids, and a venal football association result in “Hong Dong Xian Li Wu Hao Ren” (anything has relationship with football is worthless). As a result, Chinese football population and playground resource has been pushed out of being, deliberately or in-deliberately.

Can public opinion of Chinese football get any worse? Zhuanhai says no.

So far Chinese football has been deformed by public attitude, value, and need. When real-estate, education, obtain employment, medical treatment and other key problems continue to haunt civil domain, people pay little attention to football—a sport that once drew all Chinese people’s interest. Now, people only notice the negative side of the sport.

Recently, few people have cared about the National team’s losses (reference of failure to qualify for WC 2014). This kind of placid and jaded attitude among public reflects football in China is on the way back to its most basic status; indifference. Will the result of football match affect Chinese people happiness? No, it will not. That era has passed away.

If we want to develop Chinese football, first of all, we need to construct a solid background, offering enough time and space for kids to play. This is based on the schools, parents, playground and other factors. Then the promotion of school football can bring some hope for all, but “developing” should be start from “playing”; happiness and health are the presents which can solely gain trust and interest from parents and children. Any utilitarian behavior would ruin the initial development of school football.

Imagine if football develop into the most popular sport among Chinese people, then it would never die, it would grow stubbornly from gaps between buildings and parental guidance, able to embrace a bright future.

 After all, football is a game, for both players and spectators the same.

Trevor has always been a student of the game, thus becoming a teacher and ambassador for the sport was only natural. In 2010 he joined Sinobal Football Club in Hangzhou, Zhejiang, a grassroots football club founded in 1998.
First starting as a player, then as a youth and first team assistant coach, now Trevor spends most of the time coordinating international projects with the club. These include school football co-op projects, China Grassroots Football Foundation in rural areas of China, Street Football, China Grassroots Football exhibition, and finding new opportunities/events to popularize, enhance, and project grassroots football in China.
For WEF Trevor contributes primarily on happenings away from the CSL, where, arguably, Chinese football needs the most development. Although coverage on Hangzhou Greetown FC, a partner of Sinobal FC,is to be expected.
If you are interested in contacting Trevor or finding out more about grassroots football in China contact trevor.lamb@sinobal.net.

3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. Tdinuzzo

    12/01/2012 at 06:40

    Sweet article playa. Keep up the great work. China is going to be really sweet, really soon.

    • TLamb

      07/02/2012 at 16:17

      Don’t hold your breath Mr. Dinuzzo!

  2. Uncle Wen

    04/04/2012 at 12:01

    chinese has no football culture…they prefer to watch football especially BPL or La Liga than go out PLAY…of course there’s a perception that anything associated with football has no future….
    CFA …what can i say , they not gonna CHANGE and refuse to CHANGE…that’s my conclusion after so many years of talking reform but unwilling to throw in real effort…
    i just dun see much future for chinese football…however let’s just enjoy the beautiful games

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