President Xi Jinping´s love for football has put the sport solid on China´s political agenda. This year US$300 million was spend to buy European football players, all apart from the big names. China football expert Rowan Simons has for CNN a look at the way how the football happiness plan works.
For many decades, football wasn’t considered a career in China. Unless it was to be your profession, why waste time playing it? The selected few did play, relentlessly, until either rejected or forced to labor for match-throwing club owners.
Now it is springtime. Football has been rehabilitated by Xi and has become “voluntarily compulsory’ — known as “yiwu” — both inside and outside schools across the nation.
Naturally, there is plenty of room for tangential translation and overzealous short term campaigns. Building pitches is considerably easier and quicker than building well-coached teams to play on them. One education bureau was even accused of showing its over-commitment by banning basketball and volleyball — something that it denied.
By definition, a presidential fast-track football revolution will last only as long as its maker. The clock is ticking and so far the Chinese FA has been unable to follow Xi’s instructions to reform itself. This is his flagship policy.
And once — if — the teams of superstars like Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo can be tempted to sell their prize assets for bundles of cash, Chinese club owners will start looking at their expensive foreign stars whose salaries no longer impress the president. Of course, he may not be impressed already. He should say.
For all the inefficient allocation of resources symbolized by the transfer window and all the uncoordinated construction of huge pitch complexes for phantom teams, this unprecedented momentum cannot help but move Chinese football in the right general direction.
If nothing else, after 30 years of working hard, many millions of Chinese families are ready to spend some money having fun. Alongside cinemas and shopping, city stadiums and local parks should be full.
As Xi well knows, China’s transition to a happy modern society depends on it.
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