President Xi Jinping is a football fan with big ambitions, all to do with hitting the pinnacle of the sport.
He wants China to qualify for the World Cup, host it and win it, in that order — or all three. The country failed to make it to the last tournament in Brazil.
State news agency Xinhua reports that the education ministry is ramping up recruitment of talented players from across the country, part of a nationwide effort to popularize the sport.
It includes tournaments across all school levels from primary to college.
Enrollment policies will be relaxed to allow schools and colleges to recruit talented footballers, according to the report.
The ministry plans to increase the number of schools and colleges with specialist football training facilities from 5,000 to 20,000 in three years.
Also, it will implement medium and long-term programs to develop talent and popularize football, later adapting them to basketball and volleyball.
These initiatives came about after Xi outlined his vision for Chinese football in 2011.
China has only ever qualified for one World Cup and that was in 2002. Since then, Chinese football fans have had divided loyalties for Germany, Brazil and England.
Feng Jianming, a former deputy secretary general of the Chinese Football Association, told Beijing Youth Daily that the country’s football transformation cannot be achieved overnight.
Tens of thousands of training hours went into ensuring Germany’s access in this year’s World Cup and tens of millions of euros were spent to develop young players, Feng said.
He said China spent 56 million yuan (US$9.6 million) on school football training last year, not enough for more than 5,000 schools.
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