Why has China never won the world cup? (circa 2011)

A few of you my have noticed, the blog has been a little quiet for the past few weeks, this is because I was on holiday in Jakarta, where I managed to watch some Indonesian league (which may be a topic for another article). But to get the ball rolling again, here is an essay I submitted at university all the way back on 2nd June 2011.

My university in London sent all my class to study in Beijing where we all had to write an essay related to China, mine naturally had this title. So here it is, untouched, six years later.

Why has China never won the world?


China is has the world largest population, currently amounting to a figure close to 1.3 Billion. It has the world’s fourth biggest landmass. It has also recently become one of the world’s largest economies. So why therefore has this country with seemingly so many things going for it failed as of yet to make an impression on male football. China currently ranks 77th in the F.I.F.A. World Rankings with it’s highest historical ranking being 38th whilst it’s lowest being 108th.

I am a football fan and have always wondered about this underachievement so I investigated the reasons for this. I think because of football’s special status that no other sport has on such a large scale, it is down to more then simple reasons that appear on the surface and I wanted to investigated the deep rooted reasons that are behind it

My investigation is split up into four sections, in each section I will introduce a new cause and ultimately explain why China have never won the world cup.

The Role of football in Chinese society and culture

Sport in general is very popular in China, whether it be watching or playing, it is difficult to be in China for any amount of time without witnessing something to do with sport in China. However when I say sport I am not reffering to one in particular sport or even a few sports, but there is a wide variety of sports which are very popular. This is somewhat contrasted with the U.K., where besides from football and then at intermediate times through the year rugby and tennis, there is not a lot of exposure to sport in general (however the last couple of years have been an exception due in part to the 2012 London Olympic Games).

Because of what seemed like a sports overload, I did research in to the popularity of sport in general and then more specifically the popularity of football in China. My original thinking was right, of the 50 people I gave the questionnaire[1] to (these 50 were a cross-section of society e.g. old and young, beijinger and non-beijinger, male and female etc.) I found there to be a wide range of popular sports. Of the people I asked 12 (24%) said there favourite sport to play was football, this was marginally less popular then basketball with 13 (26%) people saying it was their favourite sport to play. Third and fourth most popular were perhaps seen as the more traditionally popular sports in China Table, in which they have had a very successful history in, Tennis and Badminton. Together these accounted for 28% of the people surveyed.

The other sports people stated as their favorite to play were Tennis, Volleyball, Swimming, Running and Rollerblading.

I think a few things are of interest here, the first being that there is not one sport that is by far and away the most popular, which in a lot of countries (for example in Europe and South America where it is football) there is one, above all others that is significantly more popular.

Contrast this to England where it would not be unreasonable to expect the result to be anywhere between 50% and 75% of peoples favorite sport being football. But it is not just in European countries where this is the case and indeed not just football which dominates popularity in a country, for example in India, cricket is by far the most popular sport or in Canada it is Ice Hockey.

The next interesting point I found is that the top four most popular sport only accounted for 74% of people’s most popular sports, this I think is again very different to many other countries, for example the U.K., where I would expect it to be around the 95% mark and even a country such as America with not one clear favourite sport, the combined popularity of there four big sports I would also expect to be around the 90%-95% mark.

The final point I find interesting is that although the other four sports are minorities in this survey, they are significant minorities making up 22% together which shows the broad appeal of all sport in China.

To discover a sports significance on the society it is not only important to look at the popularity of a sport in terms of how many people play it, but also in terms of how many people watch it and general recognition of the sport.

I asked what sport were peoples favorite to view either on T.V. or experience live. 21 people (42%) said football was their favorite sport to watch, the next most popular was basketball with 17 people (34%), next was volleyball with 8 people (16%) then 4 people (8%) each said tennis and badminton were there favorite sports to watch.

I think this interesting in comparison to the popularity of playing different sports, because it is a lot less evenly spread with football and basketball being 76% of the peoples favorite sport to watch with the other sports being less significant minorities.

I also think it is interesting how the popularity of watching different sports differs from the popularity of playing those sports, this is both in the rank (basketball is the most popular sport to play, but football is the most popular to watch), but also in the proportion of people as well (24% of people’s favorite sport to play is football, but it is 42% of people’s favorite sport to watch).

“Nearly 24 million viewers in China watched the match between Greece and South Korea [at least first three days], making it the single biggest audience in the first days of World Cup play.”[2] This goes to show the extent of the popularity of the sport that even a game that even a game that is not particularly headline grabbing and featuring two teams that are not particularly strong can achieve an audience so big.

I think it is interesting how football has such a clear lead in terms of favorite sports to watch, but not in terms of popularity of playing.

I think this in part goes to show that football does have some cultural significance in China indeed according to F.I.F.A. “it has long been the most popular sport throughout the country”[3], this result is somewhat unexpected because I thought one reason why traditionally successful nations are successful was because football was rooted in their respective cultures so it acts as not just a past-time, but also something more important and more meaningful.

It is not only my research that shows this, but during my research I have often come across the term “the people’s sport” referring to football. This is not difficult to understand, as in most countries were football is popular it also has this tag. It has this tag because it is easy and cheap to play (all that is needed is a football and open space).

However I think that although it is popular it has a different cultural significance than in the traditionally successful nations because the popularity of watching and exposure of the sports stars is similarly matched by the amount of people that play seriously. But in China this is not the case.

In the Federation of International Football Association’s (F.I.F.A.) last “Big Count”[4] in which they attempt to calculate the number of people that play football in the world, Chin came top of the list, with the amount of people that play, play means in any form be it as  past time or professionally, with over 26,000,000 players. But when a count of the “registered players” (players that are registered with the Chinese F.A. to compete in serious games) is seen, Chna is ranked twelfth with just over 700,000 registered players. The ratio of registered players:population is taken, (Chinese population 1.3 Billion), it is 1:1834, but if this is compared to Germany that have the most registered players at just over 6,300,000, with a national population of around 80 million the ratio is roughly 1:12.6. More extremely is Holland which ranks sixth, with just over 1,100,000 registered players but a population of roughly 6,000,000, it is a ratio of below 1:6. So not only does this small nation in terms of land and population, especially when compared to China, have a lot better ratio, it also has just under double the amount of registered player that China has in nominal figures. To put this in perspective, if China had a participation rate the size of Holland’s it would have over 215 million registered players.

Ultimately no matter how popular a sport is it is irrelevant if nobody plays it and although 700,000 people is most certainly not “nobody” the fact that compared to many other countries, in terms of actual registered players and even more extremely proportion of population. China is lacking a lot and this low participation in serious football I think goes some way to explaining a lack of quality at professional level.

The Youth Football system in China

To become a world class footballer and sportsmen in general is not something that happens overnight, but takes a long time starting from learning the basics to honing down skills and excelling past others in the same age group. This takes a lot of dedication and a lot of practice and so means starting from a young age and growing up playing and learning about the game. This means that if you are to produce world class players you have to have a youth system in place that helps players develop and also importantly helps the talented players to be identified.

With a sport such as football I think it is more important to have a good youth system then in a sport such as running, swimming. This is for a few reasons, one is that football is a lot more complex then a lot of other sports. Take for example running, sprinting in particular, but also to a slightly lesser extent long-distance running. The skills required to succeed are speed, stamina, concentration and ability to deal with mental pressure. I am not under-estimating the difficulty of achieving all these or the importance of having them, but these skills are mainly related to physical and mental strength.

It is hard work training to build up the strength required, but it is not very complex, it just involves following a strict training schedule of different exercises. Eventually after doing these exercises and going for training runs you will have the right physique and will reach your optimum potential. This is something that for the most part could be taught from reading a book.

This is not quite the same in football, because not only do you need to have the same skills as a runner (to a lesser ability) you need to have a lot more. First and foremost, football is a team game, this means that a players ability to enhance the team he is in takes preference over his individual ability. This means that although individual training is also important in terms of strength, stamina and technique, it is not enough by itself.

Players need to understand from an early stage how a team works and how they can fit in to the team structure for the best interests of the team. This complexity makes training all the more harder.

This is also contrasted with the sports China is traditionally successful in such as Table Tennis or Badminton. Although these are not quite such extreme examples as running because there is undeniably a tactical element to it which does not just rely on physical strength and stamina, it is a solo sport that is played by the individual and apart from double’s, has no aspect of teamwork, so does not have the added complexity of training that football has. It is also interesting to consider China’s successes in recent Olympic games especially and other multi-sports competitions of a world standard, the sports they have won medals in are mainly either individual sports or team sports that are of a low complexity (such as archery).

I looked at China’s success of the Beijing 2008 Olympic games[5], of the 52 gold medalds won and the total of 100 medals there were 10 and 26 that were from events that are called “team sports” respectively. I write “team sports” with the speech marks, because although they were classified as team events, they are not all team events in the way football is. Take team archery for example, by definition it is a “team” sport based on the fact it is not an individual that wins, but each individual archer shoot’s as they would in a single’s match, it is just that each player shoot’s fewer arrows than normal. But, tactics do not change, the aim of each shot is to hit the centre of the target, no matter what a team mate does or what the opponents do. Because of this it makes no difference to each archer whether the competition is defined as a “team” or individual competition as nothing that they do differs between the two. There is also no interaction or interdependency the archers, for this reason I hesitate to call it a team sport. A lot of the events China won team gold’s in are of this kind, where by definition it is a “team” sport, but it is a team in a different way that football is a team.

The only team medals that I would say have the same complexity as football that China won are “women’s field hockey” others that involve interdependency are table-tennis/ badminton/ tennis doubles ,“beach volleyball” and “volleyball”.

I decided to consider and look into why it is the case that Chinese success in sport is so predominantly individual sports and rarely in the more complex team sports. I think first of all it is important to point out that more sports in the Olympics for example are individual not team sports, so it would only be natural to win more medals in individual events then team events due to the fact there are a lot more opportunities to do so, but this equally should mean you would at least win some medals in team sports.

I think part of the reason is down to the fact sport has been used for a long time for political reasons and to promote political ideas. For example during the cold war the U.S.S.R. and U.S.A. invested heavily in sports, as each saw it as a way to show that their political model was superior and show the world that they were superpowers, not just in terms of military might. This lead to a domination of the Olympics by these two countries in the Olympics and of world sport in general from the 40’s to the end of the cold war and even further, to the extent U.S.S.R.’s sports legacy carried on by the individual U.S.S.R. states, in particular Russia. This resulted in these two nation’s becoming the first and second in the Olympic medals table on every occasion (except when either of the two boycotted) up until 2004 when China were second (Although for some of this time China were not allowed to compete due to not recognizing the sovereignty of the Taiwan Olympic Association).

I think it is obvious China at the moment is trying to change it’s perception on the world stage from that of a closed off less-developed communist country which does not have much of a say on a lot of world affairs to being seen and respected globally as a fully developed global superpower, but also appear as a prosperous country. One way to do this they have realized is through sporting success.

Because of the sheer size of the population of China it is extremely likely there will be at least one person that meets the requirements to become a world class sportsmen in most individual sports.

Add to this the simplicity of the training regimes needed (especially for sports such as weight lifting) that I referred to earlier. If China invested a reasonable amount in these sports it should be reasonable to expect to excel in international completion and as can be seen from recent results, it has excelled. So if using sport as a political tool, achieving success in individual sports is a lot quicker and easier than in a team sport, then the government might have decided to promote elite training in these sports as opposed to others.

Another reason why it might be the case that the standard of football is low in China is down to the fact, if a country wants to internally strengthen it’s abilities, without or with only a little help from foreign people and organisations, then it will take a few generations. This is down to the fact that it often takes a few generations to build up a full understanding of how the game works and tactical astuteness, a country then also needs a generation of coaches that can train the next generation how to play properly.

I think this is reflected in the fact that the eight or so national teams largely regarded as the best in the world (due to performances in the world cup and other tournaments) are the same as thirty years ago (minus U.S.S.R. for the obvious reason they no longer exist). Then if you look at the countries that are slowly starting to improve and consistently perform better in these tournaments (U.S.A., Japan, Korea some sub-saharan African nations) it is the result of a steady improvement which started some twenty or more years ago.

I will use South Korea as an example, in the recent past they have arguably excelled the most as they have participated in each of the last 6 World Cup’s (although one of these occasion’s they did not need to qualify as thy were joint host’s in 2002) which is better than England, they also reached one World Cup semi-final (in 2002), which is better than Portugal.

These countries also very often bring in outsider experts to help in all aspects of the development, for example in South Korea, they have long had a relationship with dutch football with recent managers that have taken them to the world cup finals being dutch and also the training staff. South Korea’s semi-final achieving manager in 2002 was Holland’s Guus Hiddink, since then they have had other dutch managers.

China has not yet opted to do this, instead, chosing home grown officials, this acts to decelerate the process of development as the knowledge and understanding of foreign experts can take a long time to achieve working purely from it’s own means.

It has had a history of bringing in foreign managers to manage the national team, but in terms of the management of the sport in general in China it has taken no action. For developing footballing countries it is more important to bring in foreign experts to manage the development of the sport as opposed to foreign experts to manage the national team for example, this is because, no matter how good a manager is, if they do not have any good players they can not win. To refer back to the previously mentioned Korea, they have not only had a history of bringing in dutch managers for the national team, but also have bought in experts from Holland to oversee and help the development of football in Korea as a whole, this is a more long-term approach and this is slowly starting to pay-off with increasingly good performances on the international stage. In fact when Hiddink was managing Korea he also advised on issues of football development, so even after he left the nation could carry on strengthening, this has proved somewhat successful with Korea again getting to the second round of the World Cup in 2010. This is perhaps another reason why China have performed so poorly, a foreign manager can not wave a magic wand and make his team world beaters, but there needs to be a system in place to encourage development and encourage it in the correct way.

China up until now has not had this and thus has not seen an improvement in it’s position relative to other countries in terms of quality. This is compounded by the fact the people running the sport are not football experts, but instead are politicians and members of the communist party elite (which is actually illegal under article 17 of the F.I.F.A. rules).

The traditional view of the Chinese team has often been that they are sufficiently fit and strong enough to compete, so the problem does not lie in the physicality of the team but rather in the tactical and mental side of the game. This was talked about by Japan’s manager Alberto Zaccheroni after Japan beat them in a recent tournament match. He said “You should not concentrate on the physical strengths and ability of individual players, but on the tactical layout of the team”[6], after this very same match the Chinese manager said “It would be fair to say our [Chinese] players lack the basic technical ability of the Japanese players”[7]. This is an area that is very important, because no matter how much of an athlete a player is, if they do not know how to use their strength in the right way  the player can never realise his potential.

I interviewed a coach for the amateur football organization China Club Football, I asked him what he thought the problems were with the young players and how it might affect them as they grow older. He said he thinks “up until now children have been taught in the wrong way”, he said the focus of training in most centre’s in China is to “make sure players can run around for the whole match”, but when it comes to tactical and positional sense the players are “lacking a lot”[8].

Rowan Simons one of the foremost international experts on Chinese football in an interview said about football in China “It’s dead, in my view, it’s never had a life”, he then goes on to cite one of the main reasons “the Chinese Football Association (C.F.A.) doesn’t have amateur football in its remit”. He then talks about the state control being the cause of the problem “It can happen really quickly if there’s political change…How can China still be a member of F.I.F.A. when the C.F.A. is a government-controlled body and there are no elections to it at all?”[9]. The fact the C.F.A. has no amateur remit so no focus or overriding vision might explain why tactics have never been seen as an important set of ideas to introduce as this is a harder aspect to develop and without proper guidance from the footballing authorities the job is made even harder.

So, the fact China has only recently started a new football development push, which is perhaps signified best of all by the recent creation in 2004 of the Chinese Super League (C.S.L.) is another reason the national team as of yet have not made much of an impact on the world sage.

This development push is maybe starting to make a difference or at least showing signs of a potential to make a difference after the Chinese F.A. was awarded the 2009 F.I.F.A. Football Development award for it’s grass-root’s (young players) development scheme[10], but the fact it is only starting to make efforts to improve is perhaps one of the main reasons China’s team and players have never been very good compared to international standards.

Role Models

I think one of the contributing factors towards so many young children taking up the game in Europe and South America, even now in the emerging football nations is because there have been so many role models with very public mages from these places. Some of the most recognisible British and particularly English people around the world are football players, save for the queen and the royal family I think it is fair to say David Beckham is in the top five globally most recognized Brit’s. But for the moment I want to focus on the effect of the role model on his native country.

It is not only abroad David Beckham is well known, he is also probably the most recognisible English person in England. I think over 99% of all British people over the age of 3 recognize David Beckham and around 95% could tell you his name and that he is a professional footballer. Added to this David Beckham is famous for the right reasons and although he has been involved in some large scandals (large mainly down to the fact it was David Beckham that was involved in them), most parents would be perfectly happy to allow there son to imitate David Beckham. Although increasingly more young people will not really know or remember the football he played and the matches he was involved in does not deter from one of the most recognisible men of our era having a large impact on the game. David Beckham you might is an exception as his stardom eclipses that of any other modern English footballer. His exposure may be the most extreme example of this generation, but it is not the only. There are plenty of homegrown role models for a young and growing child to choose that are footballers such as England world-cup captain Steven Gerrard or Chelsea talisman Frank Lampard.

This however is not the same in China. It is interesting in China, some of the most recognisible non-chinese celebrities and public figures are footballers, recently Messi, Kaka and again David Beckham appearing adverts across all the television networks not only advertising football products, but anything from medicine to Chinese social networking site QQ. So it would be wrong to say Chinese children and the population are largely unaware or underexposed to footballers. On the contrary these are in fact some of the most recognisible figures in Chinese society today. But the point I am trying to make is there is no Chinese role model, not at the momment and not ever. I worked as a football teacher in a football school in Beijing. I did an experiment[11] to see levels of recognition of professional players, as expected the previous names I mentioned were the most recognized by the children. But not one of the children could tell me the name of one of the Chinese players let alone recognize one of the photos of them.

I did some research with my players, I showed them pictures of 12 players, they were 9 of the most recognisible players from elsewhere in the world, including previously mentioned Messi, Steven Gerrard and David Beckham, I also let them look at the three most well accomplished Chinese footballers, these being Sun Jihai that played in the premier league for a few seasons, Hao Junmin that plays for Schalke and this year got to the Champions League semi-final as well as Deng Zhouxiang China’s current player to feature on a t.v. adidas campaign.

Of the research the most recognised player was Messi with 13/15 of the participants recognizing him and 2/3 knowing his name as well as recognizing him. He was closely followed by Kaka, Ronaldinho, Christiano Ronaldo and David Beckham. Then the sixth most recognised player is the most accomplished Asian player (by way of major championships won), South Korean Park Ji Sun. Of the participants 7/15recognised him, but only 2/15 knew his name. Other international players were not so well known or recognised.

Most striking from this investigation was none recognised any of the three Chinese players, or had heard their names before.

These results are similar to the one’s a saw in my original questionnaire, of the 50 people I asked only three of them said there favourite player was a Chinese player, the majority (combined 62% of people said their favourite player was either Messi or Christiano Ronaldo), others said various other well-known European or South American players with Kaka coming in at third.

When I asked about C.S.L. players, the majority of people 76% did not have a favourite, mostly due to the fact of not really following it. I think this again goes to show that there are no real Chinese role models for young football players to look up to.

It is not just the case that the children of today do not have any Chinese football role models or heroes. I did a follow up survey of Chinese people between the age of 18 and 30[12], (because it is this age group that would is playing now for the national team) which players they recognised and liked when younger. This time of these not one person mentioned a Chinese player, instead mentioning some of the more world famous European and South American players from that era such as the Italian Roberto Baggio or the Brazilian, Ronaldo.

I think this lack of home grown role models is significant, this is because it is easier to relate to someone from the same background as yourself and imitating the success or the skill of one of these players seems a more realistic proposal.

This is less so as a young child, but as you get older I think it starts to take more of an important role. Due to the act there are no famous Chinese players but a whole host of famous foreign players, people might think that for whatever reason being Chinese is a reason they might never succeed at playing football. So because there is no one else’s lead to follow this discourages progression and development because there is the attitude that I can never play to that high a standard anyway so I will not try to.


The Chinese game has long had a history of corruption, with at least three large scandals to hit the Chinese game since the turn of the new millennium. These scandals have been well reported not only in the Chinese media, but also in international media. It even got to the stage that Chinese premier Hu Jintao let it be known he was disappointed[13].

One of the more recent major scandals in 2009 lead to some of the perpetrators being punished[14] and it has still not been decided whether they will receive the death penalty. Amongst those punished was a previously well-respected referee, Lu Jun. He was well respected, not just because of his refereeing performances, but because of his supposed integrity in previous match—fixing scandals[15].

The match-fixing scandals can be compared to similar scandals around the world such as the Italian “Calciopoli” in 2005-2006 with what might be considered similar consequences for the domestic game, the main one being a fall in quality (compared to other leagues), which it has still not fully recovered from. Although the performance of the national team has not been adversely affected, to the extent it won the World Cup in the year of the scandal, 2006.

The scandals have also been similar in the way that they all involve some of the most popular and (perceived by most as) the best teams in the country. These teams include Shanghai Shenhua, who have won the league a twice in it’s short history.

The match fixing which is more often than not connected to illegal gambling rings has been a constant weight around the neck of the Chinese professional football leagues ever since the inception of the league in it’s first form (it was originally called Jia A, not C.S.L.) in 1994. One of the main reasons for the Chinese professional football leagues taking different guises over the years is because of the corruption scandals, with a resultant rebranding meant to disassociate the current (supposedly clean) football league with the past (dirty) versions.

This latest corruption scandal lead to a change in the leadership of the Chinese Football Association (C.F.A.). The new head of the C.F.A., Wei Di, said about corruption in Chinese football, “five years is too short for an overhaul for a sport as big as soccer…Chinese football has degraded to an intolerable level. It has hurt the feelings of fans and Chinese people at large”[16].

Corruption also leads to the commercial viability of the leagues being reduced, this is because sponsors of the league do not want to be associated with match-fixing and cheating, but would obviously prefer to be associated with sporting prowess and achievement. This perhaps is best seen by the terminating of the contract to be the main sponsor of the league in 2011 by the Italian tyre company Pirelli for the reason of not wanting to be associated with such things[17].

Because this corruption is so widely reported, large scale and frequent, the Chinese football league and domestic football as a whole has suffered from a loss of face and a declining reputation.

This declining reputation not only impacts on how people view the domestic game, but also participation in the sport as a recreational activity. I did research into the effect this corruption had on participation in serious organised football (by serious I mean in a proper formal match or training that uses the rules of Association Football).

For this research I talked to parents, because a parent has a lot of control over their young child and can decide whether or not their children can participate in football.

I also talked to football coaches and ex-players that at a younger age considered becoming a professional player. I wanted to find out what, if any influence corruption scandals had on their decisions.

At one football school in Beijng “O’le Fooall School” I talked with parents about what they thought of the corruption in the Chinese game and their children progressing to become professionals. I decided to ask at the football school, because by it’s very nature the parents must have a view about why and how their child plays football[18].

Of the five parents I spoke to I asked all of them what their opinions were on their children playing football and becoming professional players. I asked this question without mentioning corruption. Of the five, one mentioned the corruption saying that they think that they like their child playing to enjoy football and keep fitness levels high, but they would not want their child getting involved in a professional system which they perceive as institutionally corrupt.

Of the other parents, one said they never considered it due to the fact they do not see any chance their child actually becoming good enough to play at a higher level. Of the three other parents, they first replied they like their children getting excersise and learning another skill. Two also mentioned that the idea of playing professional football is a nice one but their children (7-9 year’s old) were still young and so far away from becoming professional they had not really actively thought about it.

To these three parents I then asked, is the issue of corruption big in their minds and how do they feel about it. The three parents replied that it was and, if the system did not change they would be very wary about their child, pursuing this particular career. But they followed it up by saying they are confident that in the future things can change and that when their children would be of a professional age (in about 10 years time), the system might be clean and would therefore see no problem.

None went so far to say they would actively discourage their children from playing football professionally, but at the same time they wouldn’t be altogether too comfortable with their children getting involved in a business which is seemingly controlled by things outside the control of the players and playing staff.

This goes to show that the corruption does have an effect on people taking up the game in a serious way. It is obviously not a problem with their child playing football in general, by the very nature of the fact they send their child to a football school, but the corruption has had an effect on development into playing at a higher level. This I think is one reason why China has failed to produce a good team, because even though the talent might be there it is not being encouraged to come through by a fair system that rewards ability over money.

I also spoke to football coaches. Two of these coaches work for “O’le Soccer School”[19].

The first coach I interviewed at a young age wanted to become a professional football player, but never made it in to a football academy. He complained about the system in china. He said the system is currently “rotten”, he said when he was younger and playing for his high school he had a friend who was talent spotted to play for an academy, but he could not join, because the admissions officer wanted money and his parents could no pay it. He said he thinks it is changing as more multi-national corporations (such as Nike that recently endorsed the C.S.L.) are encouraging better practice, but it is still a rotten system. He said at all levels of the game bribery exists, he said young players are even expected to pay bribe’s to be accepted to the national team. He also added that “It has been this way up to now, but I hope for change”.

I think that the fact players might have to pay bribe’s just to be accepted a centre of excellence goes to show the extent of corruption and that if only players with a certain financial backing regardless of quality can make it, this directly impacts on the quality of the Chinese professional players.

The next coach I spoke to used to be in an academy, he said “Maybe” he could have continued on to become a professional, but he “hated” the “corruption” and also said that he thought the public’s opinion on football had “changed greatly”. He in the end decided to try and teach the next generation to enjoy and respect football, hoping the future would be different.

The coaches confirm what the parents think, they also not only think but have witnessed in real life the effect of corruption on the Chinese football system.

This corruption can go a long way artificially lower standards, because it leads to professional players not having to be as good as they might have to be if it was a perfectly competitive system due to the fact it is not only down to performances that results decided so the incentive of training to win is not as strong.


There are many reasons for China’s footballing standard not being very high. There are some reason’s I have not even talked about such as investment in Chinese football compared to elsewhere in the world, or the fact the government run football as a port in China but I looked at what I regarded as the most important issues.

I think China has the potential to win the World Cup in years to come, but I understand why it has not done so until now. I would say football up until now has largely been regarded by the masses as an activity or entertainment but not a sport. I think this is reflected by the fact a lot of people play football, but not many play football seriously. Also many people like to watch it, but if these same people do not then go out to play football it of course has no effect on the quality of the nations footballers.

I think one of the main reasons for such a low participation in serious football is a lack of Chinese role models, not only now, but throughout history. If all the players people watch on T.V. and admire are from abroad and come from completely different situations it is difficult to relate to them. It then might seem like because one is Chinese then playing football to a higher standard is unrealistic especially when there are so many other Chinese sports people that could be role models to follow such as basketball player Yao Ming or Runner Liu Xiang.

Of the players that do play seriously, or at least have the intention of playing seriously, the training system let’s them down. The training techniques are old and not suited to the modern game. It is fine in China to have this training that revolves around physicality and stamina, but once playing outside of China, as has been shown countless times in history the tactics fall a long way short of the mark. Chinese tactics have stood still and have fallen even further behind the rest of the world.

Even when some players manage to make it to a professional standard despite all of these limiting factors, if ultimately results are determined by corruption then this acts to artificially lower standards due to the lack of incentive of playing well (because it will not effect the outcome). This also acts as a hindrance on the international stage when corruption has no influence.

So to sum-up and China’s failure not just to win the World Cup, but also to qualify for it on a lot of occasions, you have to take into account all the reasons and how they interlink. Without doing this and realising the problems are interlinked then the reasons for persistent failure cannot be properly understood.



The Editors, “Where Are China’s Soccer Stars?”, New York Times, June 2010, http://roomfordebate.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/06/29/where-are-chinas-soccer-stars/,  (15.03.2011)

Unknown person representing F.I.F.A., “GOAL Programme – Chinese Football Association – 2009”, F.I.F.A., http://www.fifa.com/associations/association=chn/goalprogramme/index.html, (17.03.2011)

FIFA Communications Division, FIFA Big Count 2006: 270 million people active in football, Zurich: F.I.F.A., 2006

Unknown I.O.C. representative, “Medals Table”, B.B.C., http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport2/hi/olympics/medals_table/default.stm, (02.04.2011)

Fu Yayu傅亚雨, Hai Jue Rang Guo Ao Lianhong “港脚让国奥脸红”, Yundong Zhoubao 2264 (2010): 1.

Sun Wei孙卫, Suoyou Zhongguo Zuqiuren Dou Gai Fansi 所有中国足球人都该反思, Yundong Zhoubao 2264 (2010) 4

Mulvenney, Nick, “China game hampered by lack of base”, Reuters, http://www.reuters.com/article/2008/06/23/china-soccer-idUSPEK7913220080623, (13.04.2011)

Unknown F.I.F.A. representative, “China claims Development honour”, F.I.F.A., http://www.fifa.com/classicfootball/awards/gala/news/newsid=1149937.html, (13.04.2011)

Bristow, Michael, “Sponsors desert Chinese football”, B.B.C., http://www. bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-pacific-12936084, (04.04.2011)

Unknown journalist, “China chief ‘hurt’ by match-fixing arrest of ‘golden’ ref”, Reuters, http://af.reuters.com/article/sportsNews/idAFJOE62G00H20100317?pageNumber=1&virtualBrandChannel=0, (19.04.2011)

Unknown author, “New boss vows to revive China’s football in 5 years”, China Daily, http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/sports/2010-02/02/content_9417417.htm, (16.04.2011)

Yue, Tang, “Three football association officials fired”, China Daily, http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/china/2010-01/23/content_9366272.htm, (16.04.2011)

Grammaticas, Damian, “Two football teams relegated from China’s Super League”, B.B.C., http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/8527889.stm, (04.04.2011)

Simons, Rowan. Bamboo Goalposts: One Man’s Quest to Teach the People’s Republic of China to Love Football. London: Macmillan U.K., 2008

Wolfram Manzenreiter and John Horne. Football Goes East: Business, Culture and the people’s game in China Japan and South Korea. Oxford: Routeledge U.K., 2004

James Riordan and Robin E. Jones. Sport and Physical Education in China. London: E and FN Spon U.K., 1999

Xu, Guoqi. Olympic Dreams: China and Sports 1895-2008. Harvard: Harvard University Press U.S.A., 2008

[1] Chinese attitudes towards football questionnaire, in Appendix

[2] The Editors, “Where Are China’s Soccer Stars?”, New York Times, June 2010, http://roomfordebate.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/06/29/where-are-chinas-soccer-stars/,  (15.03.2011)

[3] Unknown person representing F.I.F.A., “GOAL Programme – Chinese Football Association – 2009”, F.I.F.A., http://www.fifa.com/associations/association=chn/goalprogramme/index.html, (17.03.2011)

[4] FIFA Communications Division, FIFA Big Count 2006: 270 million people active in football, Zurich: F.I.F.A., 2006

[5] Unknown I.O.C. representative, “Medals Table”, B.B.C., http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport2/hi/olympics/medals_table/default.stm, (02.04.2011)

[6] Fu Yayu傅亚雨, Hai Jue Rang Guo Ao Lianhong “港脚让国奥脸红”, Yundong Zhoubao 2264 (2010): 1

[7] Sun Wei孙卫, Suoyou Zhongguo Zuqiuren Dou Gai Fansi 所有中国足球人都该反思, Yundong Zhoubao 2264 (2010) 4

[8] Youth development interview, in Appendix

[9] Nick Mulvenney, “China game hampered by lack of base”, Reuters, http://www.reuters.com/article/2008/06/23/china-soccer-idUSPEK7913220080623, (13.04.2011)

[10] Unknown F.I.F.A. representative, “China claims Development honour”, F.I.F.A., http://www.fifa.com/classicfootball/awards/gala/news/newsid=1149937.html, (13.04.2011)

[11] Player recognition, in Appendix

[12] Player recognition, follow up, in Appendix

[13]Damian Grammaticas, “Two football teams relegated from China’s Super League”, B.B.C., http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/8527889.stm, (04.04.2011)

[14] Damian Grammaticas, “Two football teams relegated from China’s Super League”, B.B.C., http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/8527889.stm, (04.04.2011)

[15] Unknown journalist, “China chief ‘hurt’ by match-fixing arrest of ‘golden’ ref”, Reuters, http://af.reuters.com/article/sportsNews/idAFJOE62G00H20100317?pageNumber=1&virtualBrandChannel=0, (19.04.2011)

[16] Unknown author, “New boss vows to revive China’s football in 5 years”, China Daily, http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/sports/2010-02/02/content_9417417.htm, (16.04.2011)

[17]Michael Bristow, “Sponsors desert Chinese football”, B.B.C., http://www. bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-pacific-12936084, (04.04.2011)

[18] Effects of corruption investigation, in Appendix

[19] Football coach effects of corruption investigation, in Appendix


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