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Soccer is Growing at all Levels in China

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Chinese National Football Team pose for group photo just prior to the commencement of the Asian Zone World Cup Qualifying Match at ANZ Stadium Sydney. China won 1-0.

When Tan Ruyin hit the net from 40 meters out at the Rio Olympic Women’s Soccer Tournament, the ripples were felt around the world. The Chinese team had not qualified for the London 2012 Olympics but now they were heading to the quarter-finals, where they would be edged out 1-0 by the eventual champions, Germany. This strong Olympic performance was emblematic of China’s rise in soccer in recent years.

Domestically the Chinese Super League frequently sets new records for transfer fees. This has helped propel Chinese clubs to the top rank of clubs in their region. Guangzhou Evergrande won their first ever AFC Champions League title, the elite Asian-club competition, in 2013 and repeated the feat in 2015.

In 2015, aggregate attendances, even for a 16-team league, exceeded Italy’s 20-team Serie A by more than 1.5 million, likewise the 20-team Ligue 1 in France. These are also leagues in which there is a Chinese owner, with Chinese investment widespread among top clubs in Spain and England as well. At the grassroots level too, Chinese soccer is benefiting from strong investment. The Chinese Football Reform and Development Plan is expanding access to the game throughout the country. Under the Plan, state-of–the-art facilities are being built across the nation to deliver the best training environments for everyone from schoolchildren to elite international players.

With China’s wide and varied territory and terrain that will provide acclimatization opportunities for players in every conceivable climate and altitude condition, something that will serve China’s future international teams in good stead. But one of the most immediate developments is the candidacy of the Chinese Football Association’s Senior Vice President and General Secretary, Zhang Jian, for election to the FIFA Council. A place on the Council, the equivalent of the International Olympic Committee’s Executive Board, would give Zhang, who is himself a former Deputy General Secretary of the Chinese Olympic Committee, and his country a big say in the future governance of soccer.

And Zhang has worked hard to demonstrate his credentials to the Asian Football Confederation member associations who will vote to decide which of four remaining candidates are elected to the FIFA Council. (The other three are Iran’s Ali Kafashian Naeini, Singapore’s Zainudin Nordin and Saoud AlMohannadi of Qatar.) He has traveled extensively and will have met every member association before the vote at an Extraordinary Congress of the AFC in Goa on September 27. Zhang has communicated his intentions to member associations in his campaign literature.

“Asian football has a great future,” he wrote. “China is expected to be a new engine for football’s growth in Asia. And I am dedicating myself to creating a football landscape that will bring the economic benefits of this growth to every single member association of the Asian Football Confederation.

“If you accord me the honor of representing you through the FIFA Council, I intend to take responsibility for your interests. I will make a real contribution to the development of Asian football through my efforts, working tirelessly to support you. And I will take action, always to the benefit of world football and your member association.”

A vote for Zhang would not, then, only be a vote for China.

This story first appeared in the blog, The Sport Intern. The editor is Karl-Heinz Huba of Lorsch, Germany. He can be reached at ISMG@aol.com. The article is reprinted here with permission of Huba.

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