Jul 26, 2016

    More cash but China could drop the ball


    BIG-MONEY signings and investments in storied European clubs, and the backing of a president who is an avid fan: Things should be looking up for millions of Chinese supporting the "beautiful game".

    Not so, say some long-time football enthusiasts like Bian Minming, who fear the game is being taken away from them.

    Chinese football's new-found cash also means a deluge of heavy-handed corporate sponsorships.

    Bian and others say that hampers Beijing's aim of nurturing a grassroots base for the sport and home-grown talent.

    All footballing nations have struggled to balance the interests of commercial sponsors with those of hardcore fans, but in China, encouraged by President Xi Jinping to become a superpower in the game, investors hold all the cards.

    All 16 clubs in China's top league have been forced to incorporate the names of new owners or sponsors in their team names - constant changes that irritate fans.

    Other clubs have been forced to move home, sometimes more than once.

    Buying foreign talent may increase interest - China spent more in the winter transfer window than the entire English Premier League - but as with the Gulf States, sports industry veterans warn it will do little to boost the local talent that China need if they are to achieve Mr Xi's ambition of one day winning the World Cup.

    China currently rank 81st in the world, behind St Kitts and Nevis, whose population of 55,000 would fit into Shanghai SIPG's stadium.

    "China's top-down approach to everything does not fit football at all," said Cameron Wilson who runs Wild East Football, a news website devoted to Chinese football.

    "You need a solid and long-standing football culture to generate a supply of people who have grown up watching, playing and, most importantly, loving football."