CUJU AND THE CONNECT WITH FOOTBALL
It has been claimed for a long time by the Chinese that the sport of football was actually invented there, and its current avatar is merely a derivative of their local game ‘Cuju’, first played in the Han dynasty in 206 BC. Kicking a ball is native to a lot of civilizations, and its documentation by the Chinese doesn’t prove its origins as such, but there is no doubt that the people of China have a long connect with the sport. However, the questions asked of its football teams are much the same that India face. Is it so difficult to find 11 good players out of 1.3 billion people. While some of the answers are similar, China has its own demons to contend with.
BRIBERY AND CORRUPTION
The Chinese Jia-A league became the countries first professional football league in 1994, but was beset with deep rooted problems of nepotism, bribery and corruption. The rebranding of the former top division Chinese football Association Jia-A league in 2004 created the Chinese Super League (CSL), but the change in name didn’t do much to help attendances. China qualified just once for the World Cup in 2002 and the campaign ended without any goal or a win. It was seen as a humiliation, and the subsequent years of stagnancy, finally culminating in arrests for bribery and match fixing were a low point for Chinese football.
BIRTH OF THE REFORMED CHINESE SUPER LEAGUE
The Chinese Premier, Xi Jinping, a self confessed football lover, ordered a clean-up and overhaul of Chinese football in 2012 via a 50 point reform. The reinvigorated and cleaned up CSL started attracting more professionals, sponsors and rich owners. The CFA and CSL committee imposed a range of minimum criteria to ensure professional management and administration, financial probity, and a youth development program at every club. The second division, Chinese League One, was also re-established under a new system. Besides the regular professional league, the CSL also has a reserve league, U-19 league, U-17 league and an U-15 league. The CSL and China League One’s goals are to promote high quality and high-level competition; introduce advanced managerial concepts to the market; enforce the delivery of minimum standards of professionalism; encourage the influx of higher quality foreign coaches and players; and gradually establish the European system for player registrations and transfers. The main goal for China, however, is to play in, and win, the FIFA World Cup.
CHINA’S LONG TERM APPROACH
China is the second largest economy in the world, with the highest population. As they have shown in Olympic sports, and with a successful hosting of the 2008 Olympics, their will to succeed on the world stage is strong. The Chinese government and President Xi want to make the Chinese sports economy the biggest sports economy in the world and the target is to grow it to US$850 billion by 2025(1% of GDP from 0.6), which is nearly 80% higher than the current global sports economy. China is strategically implementing both top-down and bottom-up approach in order to make China as one of the biggest football country. To widen the talent base at the bottom of the pyramid China launched the China School Football (CSF) program in 2014 which aims to produce 250,000 top level youth talents by 2025 and these talents will be trained in many high performance centers in different parts of China. The CSF, under this school program in China plans to take football to 50,000 schools as part of their curriculum. In 2014, 6000 schools had already implemented the program and by 2021, 50,000 schools will adopt this program which would gigantically increase the participation in football. All thirty-two provinces are involved in the program and regional Chinese governments are also funding this ambitious football program promoted by the Chinese President.