China has a big goal on the football pitch. It’s aiming to become a superpower in the sport by 2050. One upcoming test is this month’s 2022 World Cup qualifiers.
CGTN’s Frances Kuo has more on China’s path to reach the top.
It’s play time for a group of kids in Shanghai.
But it’s not on a playground, but on a pitch.
“We use movement to make a little game and then we train our basic skills,” said Wang Zhilin, a kindergarten student.
At Kangcheng Kindergarten in Shanghai, 6-7-year-old boys play football twice a week.
It’s one of nearly 200 kindergartens offering football across the city.
“Once they like football they’ll come and play you don’t need to make them do it,” said Zhu Guanghu of the Shanghai Football Association. “It benefits their growth. They can get so many things from being on the pitch that they can’t get from the classroom, so they will enjoy football forever.”
It’s all part of China’s big push to mold the country into an international football force.
Recently, China announced it was investing more than $200 million yuan – or nearly $28 million each year towards football education.
Every summer, youth players from across the country fly to Shanghai to train and compete.
A national fund pays for all expenses.
“It can increase their interest, make them stronger and build a good foundation for their health,” said Zhu Guanghu, President of the Shanghai Football Association. “We can also find some great young athletes for example if they’re very agile, very fast and quick-witted, with quick-reactions, including strong thinking ability, et cetera. I really think football can achieve all that.”
Other funds go to building new football pitches.
“Since 2015, we have spent over 21 million yuan to build, rebuild and expand 288 football fields,” said Ma Zhiyan with the Department of Physical Health and Arts Education in Hebei Province.
China is also hiring coaches and players from traditional football powerhouse nations.
Italian Marcello Lippi is the current head coach of China’s National Football Team.
Brazilian striker Elkeson also recently became the first player with no Chinese ancestry to play for the China National Team.
But the hope is to develop more home-grown talent to help propel China to the big leagues.