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Chinese soccer kicks off new era

By Li Yang | China Daily | Updated: 2019-08-23 06:42
Chen Xuyuan speaks after being elected president of Chinese Football Association (CFA) at its 11th membership conference at the Xianghe National Football Training Center in Hebei province on Thursday. [Photo/Xinhua]

The Chinese Football Association has elected Chen Xuyuan, former president of the Shanghai International Port Group, its sixth president. Three vice-presidents and a new 35-member executive committee were also elected in Xianghe, Hebei province, on Thursday.

This is the first time since it was established in 1955 that the CFA will not be headed by an official of the General Administration of Sport of China. Also, most of the members of the executive committee are not sports officials, but professionals coming from different walks of life related to soccer.

The composition of the committee demonstrates the sports authority has finally decided to pull back its hands from the soccer organization, as presumably it has realized that the former outdated and rigid management of the sport, along with corruption, is partly to blame for the disappointing performance of Chinese football. It has also realized that to have quick success, some shortsighted measures were adopted. For instance, under the former committee's acquiescence, large amounts of money were spent employing expensive foreign players and coaches, but not on youth training.

Chen is also a veteran professional club manager. Thanks to his efforts, Shanghai SIPG rose to be among the top clubs in China shortly after it was established in 2005, and the only Chinese footballer playing in top European leagues-Wu Lei, a forward with Espanyolis from the club's youth academy. He strongly opposes naturalizing foreign players who have no blood ties with China, and actively supports youth training and giving clubs more say in affairs related to themselves.

The new committee must set aside considerable time and energy to address the legacy issues they have inherited, as the whole national team system of different age groups, and the current Chinese Super League are both constructed and operating largely in accordance with the old policies. Should big-name foreign players vanish from the Chinese game, it will necessarily affect the clubs and the market, which will predictably mount pressure on the reformers.

It is hoped their election can be the whistle for greater professionalism. But they will definitely have to overcome considerable resistance from supporters of the hard-cash soccer policies, if not vested interests, as a handful of parties live on the old policies like parasites. So the people should grant the new board some time, because 90 minutes might not be even enough to weed out their opponents. Not to mention to carry out their new policies.

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