China's plan to move from being 83

Updated: 2015-03-20 11:07

By Jack Freifelder(China Daily)

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A doable plan?

Will the plan eventually make China a soccer powerhouse?

"I definitely think that it's a reachable goal. They've already succeeded with their women's team, and I don't see any reason why their men's team can't improve markedly in the coming years," said Andrew Zimbalist in a telephone interview. A professor of economics at Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts, Zimbalist has written extensively about the economics of baseball and soccer.

"They have the command of resources to do that and soccer utilizes relatively fewer resources than other sports because all you need is a ball and a field to play soccer. You don't need basketball nets, helmets, bats or gloves, so it's a pretty easy game to spread. I think that's one of the reasons why it's the world's most popular sport because it spreads so readily," said Zimbalist, who this year wrote the book Circus Maximus: The Economic Gamble Behind Hosting The Olympics and World Cup.

Zimbalist said the youth initiatives in China's reform plan are the most important: That's the way you build a sport in the long run. You have to start with youth, so I think that's the most impressive part of what they're doing."

As for hosting the World Cup, "I think it's realistic," he said.

Zimbalist said the sites for the World Cup are set through 2022 "and FIFA might be a little cautious about who they give the game to in 2026 after giving it to Russia and Qatar. I don't see it for 2026, but after that I don't see why it wouldn't be a viable option."

John Nauright, a professor of sport and leisure cultures at the University of Brighton in England, said there is no reason why China should not be more successful in international football.

"South Korea and Japan have had considerable success with much smaller populations and the level of football in those countries grew dramatically between the early 1980s and mid-1990s. Australia, the current champions of Asia, invested in high performance and youth coaching 20 years ago and it has paid off. Australia's entire population is roughly equal to that of Shanghai or Beijing, and football there is one of several codes vying for prominence," he wrote in an e-mail.

"With a massive capital base, huge human resources to draw upon and a willingness to succeed there is no reason China cannot be a leading football power in Asia and ultimately globally."

Cameron Wilson, founding editor of Wild East Football, a website on Chinese football, said China "has something of a job on its hands to improve its football system."

"The new plan is rightly ambitious, and clearly a lot of effort has been expended to introduce these new measures. But implementation and achieving any tangible gains are still several steps down the road," he said in an e-mail.

"It will take 100 times more work to actually implement it, and even more still to get significant results out of it."