With accusations of match-fixing and a national team that shames domestic soccer fans, professional soccer in China is in need of a boost. Interest in the sport has declined in recent years and young players are not joining teams in big enough numbers to encourage a higher-level of competitive play. From China Daily:
Chinese Football Association research in 2011 found only 8,000 players registered at local soccer associations nationwide.
In addition to the sports authority’s existing efforts to promote the sport in schools in recent years, Chinese coach Xu Genbao suggested modifying and expanding the structure of the Chinese leagues.
“The CFA faces many difficulties in persuading schools and parents to let children play soccer because academic performance is always the most important aspect in Chinese education,” said Xu, who coached Shanghai Shenhua and Dalian Wanda to league championships in the 1990s and will be leading Shanghai East Asia in the upcoming season.
Industry leaders called up the big guns for help by employing British midfielder David Beckham as a “football ambassador” to China. He just landed for his first visit, during which he has been seen kicking a ball around with school children in Beijing. From Yahoo Sports:
The former England captain said he isn’t concerned about the match-fixing scandals in China, where several players and officials were sentenced to prison.
”I’m not here to clean up anything. I’m here to educate the children and give them a chance to become professional footballers,” said Beckham during his first appearance as ambassador at a Beijing primary school.
Beckham, who left the Los Angeles Galaxy in December, said he hasn’t ruled out playing professionally in China one day.
”Who knows? People keep saying that it will be my last club, it will be my last season,” said the 37-year-old midfielder, now with Paris Saint-Germain. ”I continue to play and I love playing, so we’ll see.”
Bleacher Report looks at how Beckham’s new role may help inspire young soccer players in China and revitalize the sport:
The Chinese authorities hope to tap into Beckham’s almost unquantifiable global media appeal. The Super League already boasts the likes of Seydou Keita, Yakubu Aiyegbeni and Lucas Barrios as playing representatives, but none hold anywhere near the mass appeal of the former Manchester United and Real Madrid star.
What is clear, though, is that after damaging recent match-fixing trials (dating back to 2003), the Chinese authorities see Beckham as the man to restore the league’s reputation.
They must not waste the possible impact that he can make. His potential importance as an ambassador can be seen from both, his influence on London’s successful bid to host the 2012 Olympic Games and his help in developing the MLS. He is a highly regarded figure the world over.
China, though, needs someone, or something, to inspire the masses.
Beckham’s star power in China is indeed considerable. According to media reports, even Xi Jinping’s bodyguards were in awe when Beckham met with Xi earlier this year. As an executive from Beckham’s former team LA Galaxy told ESPN:
“[Xi Jinping] came into a suite with his security guys. These guys don’t mess around, they pull guns if someone gets close to him.
“But David Beckham comes walking into the suite and the security guards leave the president, pull their autograph pads out and there is the president, in the middle of the chaos, all on his own because his security are all in line getting pictures with David.”
See also a video of the excited throngs of fans that greeted him: