To develop elite players, China boosts football training in schools
Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) - Football (soccer) will be mandatory at an increasing number of primary and high schools across China. For the authorities, mandating football courses at more and more educational facilities is meant to raise the level of the game and bolster the country's ambitions as a power in global sport in a field - football - where the Middle Kingdom has always been a minor league player.
For Deputy Premier Liu Yandong, the development of school-level football is the cornerstone in realising China's football dream of joining the world's elite at major sporting events.
The world's most populous country has long been a powerhouse in sports such as gymnastics, diving, table tennis, badminton, and more recently, swimming. However, despite a domestic football league that offers foreign managers and players lucrative contracts, the national side remains a lowly 99th place in FIFA's global rankings, below Latvia and Qatar, far below other Asian nations, like Japan and South Korea.
When China's two East Asian neighbours jointly hosted the World Cup in 2002, gaining automatic qualification, China was able to make it in, for the first and so far last time, from the Asian region.
Now the Education Ministry will take over the promotion of youth football from the Chinese Football Association and play a more prominent role in expanding the school league system to engage and train more children in sports at all levels.
The Chinese School Football programme aims to develop soccer specialties at 20,000 primary and secondary schools by 2017, up from the current 5,000 schools, in addition to some 200 high-level college programmes to form a talent pool for elite national teams.
All this will require huge investments in schools and infrastructures to fill the existing gap in high-level instructors, teachers and talent scout, who are essential in discovering and developing future elite players for the national team.