A Chinese reform group, led by People’s Republic of China President Xi Jingping, released their new plan to develop football in the nation on Friday.
Assuming office two years ago, President Xi is known to be a fan of football and sees reform at grassroots level as an important step towards the nation being seen as both an economic and sporting power. In the past, President Xi has spoken of his desire to see China qualify for their first World Cup since 2002, host a World Cup of their own and, eventually, win the global tournament.
“We must develop and revitalize football to ensure we are a strong nation of sports,” read a statement released by China’s central reform group after a meeting.
“The sports world, and especially the footballing world, needs to grab the opportunity, and be audacious in reform.”
Once a favourite sport of the nation, local scandals and poor international results have left fans disillusioned by football, which according to the statement has a “defective system” and requires better “institutional guarantees.”
Also included in the reform is a plan to target players from a much younger age.
“Grasp the development opportunity as babies, from the roots,” wrote Xinhua, the state news agency, in its summary of the reform plan.
The plan comes after last year’s decision to make the sport a mandatory part of the national school physical education curriculum and a deal between the Chinese Football Association (CFA) and Tom Byer, a leading grassroots coach across the Asia region, to develop and implement a school football curriculum in 2012.
The CFA itself has also gone through internal changes over the last twelve months with Cai Zhenhua, deputy Director of State General Administration of Sports, taking over as the body’s president in January of last year and the installation of new national team head coach, Alain Perrin, three months later.
After shocking many in this year’s Asian Cup by progressing undefeated from their group, Team Dragon slumped to a 2-0 quarter-final defeat to eventual champions Australia.
While now-defunct local leagues had been rocked by match fixing and doping scandals which disillusioned fans, the new Chinese Super League has seen a significant boost in popularity amongst the public through the continental success of Guangzhou Evergrande and the recent signings of big name foreign players by several clubs.
Whilst no specific action by the Chinese government has been proposed by the report, it has recommended revised management systems and the integration of professional and amateur clubs along with schools.