Reforms aim to put soccer back on track

Updated: 2014-01-24 00:48

By Sun Xiaochen (China Daily)

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The national governing body for soccer has passed institutional reforms that it hopes will help revitalize the sport in China, after several years of poor performance and corruption scandals.

The reforms, centered around a more market-oriented approach and the separation of supervisory and management powers, are expected to put Chinese soccer back on track.

 Reforms aim to put soccer back on track

Fans of Guangzhou Evergrande cheer for their team during a match in Guangzhou, Guangdong province, on Nov 9. The team clinched their first AFC Champions title with a 1-1 draw with FC Seoul. WU JUN / FOR CHINA DAILY 

Disappointing match results and a shrinking pool of talent saw Chinese soccer struggling over the last decade, with the sport failing to reach most of the objectives laid out in its 10-year development blueprint.

The men's national team hasn't reached the final stage of the World Cup since 2002 and struggled to compete in Asia after losing 5-1 to Thailand in a friendly last June. The women's national squad also slid down the world rankings.

Still, the newly elected soccer governing body said it expects the sport to be revitalized through further professional reform on league management and youth development.

"Professional development doesn't only mean spending heavily on hiring a renowned foreign coach and importing big-name foreign players; it requires the whole soccer management system to function professionally within a solid structure," said Cai Zhenhua, new president of the Chinese Football Association.

Cai made the remarks at the conclusion of a speech at the association's 10th national congress on Wednesday. The association elected its new executive board, including Cai, seven vice-presidents and two consultants at the congress. It also amended its long-standing constitution to deepen reforms.

According to the adjustment, the association will cancel its league department, which used to centralize management powers for all levels of domestic leagues, handing more decision-making rights to the Chinese Super League company, which was formed by 16 club shareholders in 2005 to run the league.

The association will also set up as many as 15 departments, including an independent legal department, an ethics and fair-play committee and an arbitration board to monitor the league's healthy operation.

"We will place specialized talents in different positions to take charge of various jobs, instead of doing everything through the association like before," said Zhang Jian, the new secretary-general of the CFA.

Such moves are expected to solve the problem that the CFA both operated and supervised the league, which has provided a breeding ground for match-fixing and bribery scandals, said congress representatives.

"The institutional change shows the CFA's efforts to separate itself from league operation and only serve as a supervisor, which is in line with international practice," said Wang Qi, president of second-tier league club Shenzhen Ruby.

Chen Peide, former chief of Zhejiang provincial soccer administration, echoed Wang's sentiment, saying defining the association and league companies' respective roles will help Chinese soccer develop in a more professional way.

Meanwhile, the CFA expects to enlarge the scale of the pro-league system by encouraging more private investors to establish clubs.

According to the new 10-year plan released at the congress, there should be at least 38 second- and third-tier league clubs by 2023, 12 more than the current amount, thus strengthening the game's foundation.

Yu Changlong, representative from second-level club Jilin Yanbian FC, called for more rights on commercial development and talent drafting to be given to lower clubs. Their affiliated local sports bureaus currently wield most of the power.

At the higher level, market-oriented operation, as exemplified by the new AFC Champions League winner Guangzhou Evergrande, should be promoted, said insiders.

Since being taken over by real estate company Evergrande in 2010, the Cantonese club has boasted professional management led by Italian manager Marcello Lippi, a youth training system and a rewards mechanism that motivates players.

Its impressive results in both the domestic league (three consecutive top-league titles from 2011 to 2013) and Asian competitions have won praise from China's top leaders.

"Evergrande has helped improve Chinese soccer's image internationally and set an example for professionalization," said Cai.

Sun Wen, former women's national captain and FIFA Female Player of the 20th Century, said Evergrande's huge investment was eye-catching and its businesslike operations will help it stay successful.

A solid professional league system is hoped to benefit the national team, and the 10-year plan envisions both the male and female national squads dominating Asia and challenging the world's best.