China's plan to move from being 83

Updated: 2015-03-20 11:07

By Jack Freifelder(China Daily)

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China's plan to move from being 83

Then Vice-President Xi Jinping prepares to kick a Gaelic football during a visit to Croke Park Stadium in Dublin, Ireland, in February 2012. [Photo/Xinhua]

China has the money, the population and a dedicated fan base for a world-class soccer team, but it doesn't have one. That may change with the country's unveiling of a plan this week to eventually get that team, JACK FREIFELDER reports from New York.

One number can be used to summarize the woeful story of the sport of soccer in China: 83.

That's the current global ranking for the country's national men's team by the International Federation Association of Football, the sport's governing body.

China's men's team has entered the World Cup finals only once, in 2002 when jointly held by Japan and South Korea in their countries. The team didn't score a goal.

The women's team has done much better. It finished second in the 1999 World Cup and now ranks 13th in the world, down from the Top 10 a decade ago.

Germany is No 1 in FIFA's men's and women's rankings.

But President Xi Jinping, who is widely known as an avid soccer fan, is looking to move to the top of those rankings.

Xi launched a reform roadmap for the sport in February, and on Monday the State Council, the country's cabinet, unveiled a detailed plan. The goal: make China a soccer powerhouse and eventually host the World Cup tournament.

A big emphasis in the plan is to get the country's youth involved by expanding soccer education and playing at schools and universities. More than 5,000 elementary and middle schools in China now provide soccer coaching. The plan aims to make that number reach 50,000 by 2025 with the goal of producing more than 100,000 players.

New soccer fields are to be constructed; from schools to corporations, all organizations are being encouraged to set up their own soccer teams and to stage amateur games at multiple levels.

The plan also calls for cleaning up a sport that has been riddled with corruption, from bribery to match-fixing and gambling scams.

It would move the sport from the state sports body's administration to an independent league council of club owners and a Chinese Football Association representative to operate and manage leagues at all levels.

There are initiatives for the national team, including investing more on training, logistical support and building two more training bases.

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