In the 18th century, China was a great power – measured both by population and cultural and economic weight. Industrialization in Europe and the subsequent colonization contributed to China’s “lost century” between approx. 1850 and approx. 1950. Today, China has a population of 1.35 billion and has enjoyed formidable economic growth since the 1980s. China is now the world’s second largest economy by gross domestic product. It gives communist China global political and economic power. The Chinese government is now trying to bring this great power status onto the football field. Self-confidence is at its peak, and huge sums are being invested in achieving good results on the football field.
- Why is China betting so hard on football?
- How can football contribute to Chinese foreign policy?
- When will China win the World Cup?
- Will China become more powerful than Europe on the football field?
In the summer of 2016, Liverpool Football Club negotiated with Chinese investors (a consortium led by investment company Everbright) to acquire the club. In addition, we have for the first time been able to observe a Chinese sponsor during a European Football Championship (Hisense Group) and this year FIFA has a Chinese sponsor who will sponsor the next four World Cups (Wanda Group). We are witnessing not only commercial appetite from major Chinese investors; it is also part of a plan by the Chinese Communist Party to “color the football field red”. Their ambitions to become the world’s largest economy will be crowned with global dominance on the football field . The ultimate goal is to once again win the World Cup at home.
2: The leader is a football enthusiast
According to SECURITYPOLOGY, Chinese President Xi Jinping is a Manchester United supporter and has a reputation for being very interested in football. He has set himself the goal of making China the world’s football superpower. Following Xi’s initiative, the Chinese government adopted a plan in November 2014 to become the world’s largest sports economy before 2025, and success on the football field is the key to achieving this goal.
Should the Chinese succeed in this venture , it will contribute to the current global sports economy not only getting a new powerful state player, but also to the sports market changing dramatically . Economically, the goal is for football and other sports to create a sports industry worth $ 850 billion. Then the sports industry in China will contribute 1 percent of the country’s gross domestic product. Today, it accounts for 0.6 percent. If the Chinese manage to achieve this goal, China will account for more than half of the turnover in the global sports industry. The political goal is that these investments will help the ordinary man in the streets of the Western world to get a positive perception of China, a Chinese form of public diplomacy – public influence – and a new way to “Make China Great Again”.
3: Big visions
Already when President Xi Jinping was Vice President in 2011, he made three wishes for football in China:
- The country should qualify for another World Cup (China has only participated in the Men’s World Cup once, in Japan and South Korea in 2002),
- China will one day host the World Cup
- China will win the World Cup. He did not talk about women’s football at the time: The Chinese women’s national team has participated in six world championships, China has hosted the Women’s World Cup twice, and China has a second place to boast in the Women’s World Cup.
After Xi became president in 2012, he did his best to achieve his three goals, and in 2015 he put in place a separate Chinese football directive and a separate working group that will get used to national football , a sport that in China has long had been plagued by match-fixing , corruption and poor management .
Xi’s policy extends far beyond Chinese cantons and is not only a domestic policy measure, but also part of a strategy to gain greater international influence . Football is a new tool for achieving goals in international politics.
Xi Jinping and the Communist Party think long-term – as they often do. In April 2016, the Chinese Football Association, in collaboration with the National Development and Reform Commission and the Ministry of Sports and Education, launched a 35-year plan . The goal is for the country to have 50 million active football players by the end of 2020 and for China to be Asia’s best national football team by the end of 2030. This is the first time China has launched concrete plans and goals to rise in the football sky.
4: Follows up Olympic success
This is not the first time the Chinese government has put all the cloths on the sports field. In 2008, China hosted the Olympics – as the first developing country. For Chinese inside and outside China, this was a proud moment in China’s modern history. It showed that China had joined the good company; it brought about a new form of nationalism in China. The country invested heavily in the Olympic torch relay that went all over the globe ahead of the Games, but it was a small disaster. It attracted all the human rights organizations in the world that used the media opportunities around an Olympics to protest against human rights violations in China.
Many Chinese – both regime believers and opponents of the regime – felt trampled on and therefore gathered against criticism from outside. Great resources were spent on doing well on the sports field, and it contributed to China becoming the best nation. At the same time, it contributed to increased Chinese nationalism. Ahead of the Olympics, the Olympic values became the curriculum in many Chinese schools. The Olympic clichés fit in well with the slogans of the Chinese Communist Party. In a way, China’s new commitment to football follows in the Olympic footsteps of 2008. On the other hand, football is an outward-looking project that will not only contribute to increased Chinese patriotism, but also contribute to economic growth.
5: Football history
It was the Chinese who invented football, or kickball as it was called, over 2000 years ago. Kickball or zuqiu (formerly cuju) became very popular during the Han Dynasty (206 BC-220 AD). This variant of football had its heyday during the Song Dynasty from 960 to 1279 and was considered entertainment .
Kickball took place in different forms. One variant was to keep the ball in the air as long as possible, another was matches between teams where the players were to get the ball in goal, as we associate with football today. Kickball had – as a team today – managers, coaches and captains. This is a long time ago, and since modern football originated in England in the 19th century, the Chinese football dynasty has only been a good story. Now it looks like China’s rulers want to take football back.