Though renowned for topping the medal tables in sports such as gymnastics, badminton and table tennis, China has never been talked about for its football… until now that is. In recent months, it’s been hard not to notice the stir that this country, better known for its feng shui than its football, has caused in sport headlines across the world, as clubs bid record breaking sums to draw top players from leading foreign clubs.
This comes after President Xi JinPing, a huge fan of the game, announced his aim of transforming China into one of the footballs’ global superpowers, capable of winning the 2050 World Cup. Chinese clubs such as Guangzhou Evergrande and Shanghai Shenhua have since acquired world-class players and coaches like Oscar and Sven Goran Eriksson to help drive the national standard and train younger generations to create the world-class team Xi JinPing desires within 30 years. It doesn’t stop there; football has now become a compulsory part of the Chinese school curriculum and textbooks teaching the rules of the game have been distributed.
With this change has come a huge increase in the fan base of top Premier League teams, as more than 300 million people across China tune in regularly to watch ‘the beautiful game’. The World Cup is a prime example of this new craze that’s sweeping the Middle Kingdom. This year, Russia has welcomed around 100,000 Chinese fans to watch the sport’s biggest and best tournament, with a further 70 million tuning in to watch from home. English fans reportedly bought a total of 31,000 tickets this year.
Given the fact the Chinese national team are no where to be seen in Russia and haven’t qualified for a World Cup since 2002, you might be wondering why. As with many things in modern day China, this football mad attitude can be explained by the growing affluence of large parts of the Chinese population. With money comes status, and what better way to demonstrate it than by engaging with the world’s most popular sport?
Chinese fans aren’t known for their loyalty to football teams; unlike the die-hard fans of Europe, the Chinese are swayed more by success. So, when it comes to the World Cup, expect to see Chinese fans rooting for teams that are leading group tables, or boasting top players such as Brazil, Argentina and Portugal. The same can be said for the Premier League; whilst Manchester City remains fans favourite, one slip and it could all change!
No one can deny the rise of football’s popularity in the Middle Kingdom, but will China become a top global team? Though many may laugh at the President’s ambitious aims, when it comes to China’s strong track record in various other sports and the huge amount of money clubs are pouring into it, it would be a mistake to not take China seriously.