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Introspection needed to revive soccer

By Dong Wuzhi | China Daily | Updated: 2022-01-15 09:02
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The fortunes of Chinese soccer have changed. From what appeared to be promising days, Chinese soccer has entered a period of uncertainty, with the China Football Association suffering a net loss of 50 million yuan ($7.85 million) in 2019-20. The loss may be due to different causes, but the sharp contrast between the sky-high salaries of players and coaches and the poor performance of Chinese soccer teams has always faced public criticism.

Worse, there is little to cheer about on the international front as China is again likely to miss out on World Cup qualification.

In 2019, the State Council, China's Cabinet, issued a circular outlining a plan to develop China into a leading sports power. In order to advance the national fitness campaign, it said, efforts would be made to promote soccer, basketball and volleyball, as well as support the development of vocational sports.

According to the circular, the goal is to make China a modern socialist country that excels in sports by 2050, with its people's physical fitness level and its global influence in sports ranked near the top.

It is important for the government to play a leading role in formulating policies to build China into a leading sports power and realize the Chinese Dream of national rejuvenation. Soccer, arguably the most popular team sports in the world, is very popular among the Chinese people. So the development and promotion of soccer are significant for the country to improve people's physical fitness level, cultivate a sports culture and boost the sports industry.

However, Chinese soccer faces many problems, not least because of the poor performance of the national soccer team and the imbalanced development of the sport. Soccer is not only a kind of competitive sport, but also a social sport that reflects the players' personality, emotional quotient and comprehensive ability.

Most professional soccer players in China earn much higher salaries than white-collar workers and have access to advanced training facilities and equipment.

Although soccer players should be paid handsomely due to their relatively short playing career, the physical demand of the sport and the high expectations they carry, Chinese soccer players' poor performance for years do not justify their sky-high salaries.

There is a big gap between Chinese and foreign top teams, but it is a shame that the Chinese teams lose matches because of a lack of sportsmanship and efforts.

Yet some Chinese soccer players have made remarkable achievements. For example, the late soccer star Lee Wai-tong, known as the "King of Asian Football", led the Chinese team in the 1936 Berlin Olympic Games, the first time China participated in the event. To collect the funds needed for the trip, the Chinese team played a series of exhibition matches against 27 foreign teams and won 23 of them. The Chinese players' performance and determination won them the respect and admiration of not only the Chinese people but also their opponents.

Li and other successful Chinese soccer players played for the country and out of love for the game, rather than money.

Indeed, the Chinese national soccer team has made some progress of late in terms of skills and attitude. And although sometimes the loss outweighs the other gains, the players need to make all-out efforts till the last minute of a game even if the chances of a victory are slim. Hard-working players will definitely get the praise they deserve.

Chinese soccer players, apart from excelling in skills, speed and stamina, should also have a strong sense of national pride and responsibility. We need more victories, and should not look for excuses to cover our drawbacks. But despite victory being important, the players should always uphold sportsmanship and never forget that hard work pays.

As for Chinese soccer as a whole, since it has been struggling on and off the pitch, it needs to do some soul-searching to reassess its priorities.

The author is a research fellow at the China Football College, Beijing Sport University.

The views don't necessarily reflect those of China Daily.

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