Russia is attracting the world’s attention as the first eastern European country to host the FIFA World Cup; however, China hasn’t sent a team to participate in the games. Yet the 2018 tournament is said to be full of Chinese elements, with Chinese businesses among FIFA’s top sponsors. And the stadiums are visibly full of Chinese fans, with around 40,000 tickets having been sold to Chinese nationals according to FIFA; that’s ninth in ticket sales by country.
China is explicitly showing its willingness to be seen in the world, yet it has not won a qualifying game since 2002. Why is Zhang Yuning the only Chinese to play in the EU Pro Football Leagues? The biggest impediment appears to be the Chinese Football Association Super League (CSL) itself. There have been numerous corruption and game-fixing scandals. Within the top management alone, cases of corruption are endless. Former Football Association Chairman Xie Yalong, as well as Vice Chairmen Nan Yong and Yang Yimin for example, have been jailed on grounds of bribery and game fixing.
China’s national football team has spent a great deal of money, but has yet to produce a team that can enter the World Cup. Numerous anti-corruption efforts, reforms, reorganizations, and coach-changes later haven’t altered the situation — the team still performs poorly. Salaries and bonuses have been increased in the hopes of buying top talent, but this too has yielded little results. Even international coaches hired at extravagant prices hasn’t succeeded in changing the situation.
Needless to say, the Chinese football team has only entered the World Cup once in 2002 when it was co-hosted by Japan and Korea. However, in the first run of that tournament, the Chinese team lost all three games and was eliminated without scoring a single point.
In recent years, China has been investing huge amounts of money into the sport and has plans to erect 20,000 football schools before the year 2020. The goal is to teach 30 million primary and middle school children to play football. Despite China’s investments, its football team’s world ranking continues to fall. Its best world standing was 37th in 1998, currently, it ranks just 75th.
Translated by Jean Chen and edited by Emiko Kingswell