'We definitely have hope'

Updated: 2011-12-12 08:00

By Tang Zhe (China Daily)

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GUANGZHOU - If knowing really is half the battle, Chinese soccer is exactly halfway to success.

China soccer head Cai Zhenhua on Saturday gave his first formal interview since taking over in September, telling China Central Television (CCTV) he's determined to establish a solid foundation for a sport plagued by a string of recent scandals and embarrassments.

Cai, the vice minister of the General Administration of Sport of China, said his aim is long-term.

"Chinese soccer is having its hardest time now, but I believe with the support of our fans and the backing of other ministries and commissions, we definitely have hope," said Cai, who, according to Chinese media, will be appointed the 10th president of the Chinese Football Association at the country's next representative conference of soccer, which has been indefinitely postponed due to corruption scandals.

'We definitely have hope'

"Theoretically speaking, I have ten years, and I have prepared to work as if we're climbing rungs on a ladder for Chinese soccer during that time. I'm full of confidence and determination to make Chinese people satisfied with the sport and make Chinese national teams regular participants in Asian and world tournaments in the following years."

Cai's interview was Chinese soccer's first positive presence on the nation's central television after bribery and match-fixing scandals, involving the arrest of several CFA top officials, leaked out at the end of 2009.

The 2011 Chinese Super League (CSL) award ceremony was also carried live on Saturday on CCTV's sports channel, which will broadcast the domestic league again next season after a year-long ban because of the sport's poor image.

Cai said the development of team sports must focus on popularity among children rather than the elite mode used in individual events.

"All of our national teams obviously (lag behind) our counterparts in Asia and in the world. And our national lineups and clubs don't have long-term plans or a consistent construction policy," said Cai, who led a research team to Japan in October.

"We must work from the bottom and think further to start our work from popularizing the sport with kids, because only (once we have a large population of soccer players), can we achieve changes in quality."

The increasing investment of clubs and closer attention from fans also point to the sport's revival.

According to CFA statistics, more than 4.2 million fans attended CSL games in 2011, the highest in the league's history.

Meanwhile, 16 CSL clubs have invested more than two billion yuan ($316 million) into the league this year, led by Guangzhou Evergrande's $10 million contract with Argentinian Dario Conca.

More big names are being connected with the Chinese league. Looming largest is a deal between Shanghai Shenhua and French striker Nicolas Anelka.

Shenhua spokesman Ma Yue confirmed the deal on Sunday, saying the 32-year-old Frenchman could start playing for the team in January, "if all contract details are 100 percent confirmed", the AFP reported.

"The new attendance record indicates our fans' attitude to Chinese soccer is changing," said CFA deputy chief Wei Di at the ceremony on Saturday in Guangzhou. "The clubs' huge investment also represents their confidence in Chinese soccer. I believe the clubs will benefit from their investments, and the skill of our players will become better and better."

Chinese players also expressed their desire to see more world-class foreign players joining the Super League.

"Anelka will become the biggest star in the league's history if he joins us, which is a milestone for both Shenhua and Chinese soccer," said Yu Tao, who plays for Shenhua.

China Daily