After Crushing Defeats, China’s Soccer Body Wants Fairer Games
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2017-08-30 11:52:19

China’s governing body for soccer is blaming ill-advised match arrangements for a string of demoralizing losses suffered by the country’s youth teams, according to an official notice on Tuesday.

The Chinese Football Association (CFA) said it is going to require its member clubs to report their tournament arrangements in the future, citing Chinese teams suffering lopsided defeats at the hands of foreign competitors. It acknowledged that there were gaps in skill, but, the notice read, “We need to understand that these defeats resulted from human mistakes that mismatched amateur school squads with professional teams.”

Although the CFA’s memo did not mention any specific games, it follows several big defeats that received lots of attention online, reported The Paper, Sixth Tone’s sister publication. At a tournament held in eastern China’s Fujian province in August, a school team didn’t stand a chance against a Brazilian club team and lost 0-20.

A month earlier at another tournament in Inner Mongolia, two similar matchups ended with the even more improbable scores of 0-30 and 0-29.

The CFA said in its notice that these mismatches miss the point of organizing such games in the first place because they discourage teenagers from playing soccer, as well as confuse the undermatched foreign players.

Han Dong, an employee at Outshion Football Club who was in charge of coordinating the Fujian tournament, told Sixth Tone that the school teams knew in advance that they would be facing professional teams. He declined to give further details about the match arrangements, and, using an idiom, said that the public would make up its own mind about whether the organizers were to blame for the losses.

While some net users have questioned the rationale for holding matches between amateurs and professionals, many netizens reacted negatively to the notice, saying the CFA was dodging the myriad problems facing Chinese soccer. Although China’s women’s national team has been relatively successful, the more popular men’s team has for years been a source of ridicule and frustration to the sport’s many Chinese fans for its lackluster performances.

Nevertheless, President Xi Jinping expressed in a 2015 interview with Reuters his expectation that the Chinese team would one day be among the best in the world. In line with this vision, the government has been putting greater emphasis on soccer programs, including aggressive plans for more fields.

In its 2020 Action Plan, the CFA announced by that year, there should be 1 million Chinese teenagers playing soccer on school and club teams. And in a joint statement with the Ministry of Education, the association also said that the number of schools specializing in teenage soccer programs would be increased from 5,000 in 2015 to 50,000 by 2025.

After the 0-30 defeat to a team from São Paulo, soccer players from the losing side told The Paper that although the experience was like “cracking a stone with an egg,” they expected to learn more from playing through tough matchups.

“In three or five years, there might be countless Chinese Ronaldinhos,” the Chinese side’s coach said, referring to the star Brazilian midfielder. “Playing with those professional teams could be the chance of a lifetime.”

Editor: Kevin Schoenmakers.

(Header image: Teenage athletes battle for the ball during a soccer match in Beijing, June 4, 2017. Lu Shiyue/VCG)