How A Communist Country Gets Better At Soccer: Make Everyone Play
For a country of 1.4 billion people, China fails miserably at fielding even moderately competitive national sports teams. They've never medaled in Olympic Basketball, they've never finished better than 11th in the World Baseball Classic, and they're currently one spot away from being ranked in the triple digits by FIFA.
But get this: The Chinese Men's National Team has only made the World Cup one time, in 2002 when the tournament was held next in Korea and Japan. You think some strings were pulled to make that happen?
Does China have a big wall?
Point being, soccer could be their worst team sport outside of hockey. The trouble is, soccer is pretty popular over there, so you'd think the dictatorial Chinese government would do something about it.
[The Economist] On November 27th it was announced that football would become a compulsory part of the national curriculum at schools. Wang Dengfeng, an education official, said improving the standard of football in China must “start with children”. By 2017 some 20,000 schools are to receive new football pitches and training facilities, with the aim of creating 100,000 new players. In 2016 football will become an option in the national university-entrance exam. This could help overcome resistance among parents to their children being distracted from their academic studies by ball-kicking.
The capital, Beijing, is pioneering these efforts. Its education bureau already has a football consultant, Tom Byer, an American who has worked to boost grassroots football-playing in Japan. Mr Byer says he is “very optimistic that the Chinese government is headed in the right direction”. He could be right: if more Chinese children are exposed to football, a far stronger corps of elite players will surely emerge—though not in time for Mr Xi’s next birthday.
The newest FIFA world rankings come out tomorrow, which could see China drop below their current standing at 99, as they've been struggling through Asia Cup qualifiers (currently 2-2-2). Embarrassing, yes -- but judging by this video of the Chinese U-20 team allowing a mind-numbingly, slow-rolling own-goal, we'll assume a sub-100 ranking won't hurt too much. It can only get better, guys. Keep your chins up.
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