Why is China absents from Russia

World Cup is Chinese dream or pain?Seven out of the nineteen key corporations sponsoring the 2018 FIFA World Cup are from China. This has led to a saying in China that “all Chinese companies are going to Russia apart from the national football team”. By Xiao Jian Yan, UK Chinese Author

Posted by Xiao Jian Yan on Tuesday, 10th July 2018

World Cup 2018 began with a bang the host nation Russia trashing Saudi Arabia in the opening game. More than 60,000 Chinese football fans purchased tickets to visit Russia to experience the World Cup. Which probably gave rise to the joke that: "every company in China is going to the World Cup except for the national team". It also prompted the Russian media "NEWIZV" to ask the question "why China is always absent from the World Cup?" China boasts the richest football super league in the world, and President Xi is passionate about football. He wants to host a future game in China and dream about China winning the World Cup. But the sad truth is that the level of China’s super League is far from world-class. In many areas, it is worse than that of Russia.

China is an economic powerhouse. It is a big country with a huge population of 1.4 billion. But they do not have a strong football team, and the question is why? With its massive population and diverse ethnic mix, China appears to be a natural physical sporting nation. But football has always been China’s pain point and the Chinese dream of the World Cup remains an unreachable goal.

All over China it is known that nepotism is at the heart of football club management. The illusion exists that well to do people without any experience or knowledge of football can become good club managers because of their connections. This has created serious structural problems across Chinese football, which requires national solutions to fix.

For example, in my hometown back in China during the 1960s when I was a child, I only played football at school with friends. There were no goal posts. We placed two schoolbags on the playground and ran back and forth kicking the balls towards space in between the bags. Although we were happy, we still had to play in secret and avoid being scolded by our parents for our dirty clothes. My hometown was rural but even in large cities children had the same opportunities we had? If China’s education system could evolve and be more opened it would give more freedom to children who play football and subsequently establish a sustainable football culture. Today despite the doubling of the national population, there are fewer children playing football and even fewer football fields. So how can there be a football atmosphere and culture? According to national related statistics, the per capita football space in China is very small. Only 120,000 people have access to a soccer field in Shanghai, compared to the Netherlands, which has 24 times the number of soccer stadiums per capita than that of Shanghai. And London is 43 times that of Shanghai.

The scarcity of football infrastructure means that the popularity of Chinese football is lacking. Currently, less than two per cent of people play football in China compared to seven per cent in Europe, America, and South America. If Europe or South America is too distant from China to make reasonable comparisons, let’s compare with our neighbours. Japan with a population of 137 million can boasts numbers of registered football players under the age of 18 at more than 600,000, while the registered number of youth players in China is less than 10,000. That is a massive difference. But of more significance, some foreign coaches who have worked in China believe that Chinese football lacks the personal and professional passion that is so visible elsewhere and works to raise standards. Chinese players are known to lack self-discipline. Compare Christiana Ronaldo a model of self-discipline to Dong Fangzhuo. They were both at Manchester United at the same time. Dong Fangzhuo invested in a brand new luxury car, while Christiana Ronaldo used his money to buy fitness equipment, hired fitness coaches, and nutrition consultants. Ronaldo at the age of 33 is still among the top centre-forwards at the 2018 FIFA World Cup while Chinese players are back in China exhibiting their luxury cars and other achievements. So just how much do Chinese players really love football?

Apart from the 2002 World Cup, China football has always been absent from the World Cup, and will not qualify anytime too soon. Indeed there are many obstacles preventing football in China to move forward; including that posed by analysts and experts that the problems facing Chinese football are an issue of faith. Faith like a religion as exists in the West at the national and family levels; where there is a belief in God there is the belief in the people that they must aspire while working for themselves and the nation - teamwork. So the majority of people endeavour to do the very best for themselves, their profession, and nation. This they do because God is omnipotent and everywhere. This fear and belief in God extend its spirit into professional ethos desiring the ultimate and benefits for themselves and country. That is their inherent sense of personal honour! This ideology in Europe and the West sees individuals fighting together collectively to achieve their personal professional interests and out of fear of the supporters and civilian institutions to which they are accountable, achieve the national interests and goals. When individuals’ professional beliefs peak a strong team is generated.

China’s special history offers reasons why China has not acquired a complete belief system. Although Buddhism was once popular in China it did not really play an active role in religion. So, If Chinese football players don’t build up their own faith and treat football as their honourable professional belief, they will not develop the ethos and hard work to become motivated to achieve national World Cup dreams. In other words, there might still be a very long way to go for China to achieve World Cup glory. But a big country like China with a strong economy must do better to generate a stronger team to play at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, Asia. This still remains uncertain.

Editor: James Norris

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