Re­forms aim to put soc­cer back on track

China Daily (Canada) - - CHINA - By SUN XIAOCHEN sunx­i­aochen@ chi­nadaily.com.cn

The na­tional gov­ern­ing body for soc­cer has passed in­sti­tu­tional re­forms that it hopes will help re­vi­tal­ize the sport in China, af­ter sev­eral years of poor per­for­mance and cor­rup­tion scan­dals.

The re­forms, cen­tered around a more mar­ket-ori­ented ap­proach and the sep­a­ra­tion of su­per­vi­sory and man­age­ment pow­ers, are ex­pected to put Chi­nese soc­cer back on track.

Dis­ap­point­ing match re­sults and a shrink­ing pool of tal­ent saw Chi­nese soc­cer strug­gling over the last decade, with the sport fail­ing to reach most of the ob­jec­tives laid out in its 10-year de­vel­op­ment blue­print.

The men’s na­tional team hasn’t reached the fi­nal stage of the World Cup since 2002 and strug­gled to com­pete in Asia af­ter los­ing 5-1 to Thai­land in a friendly last June. The women’s na­tional squad also slid down the world rank­ings.

Still, the newly elected soc­cer gov­ern­ing body said it ex­pects the sport to be re­vi­tal­ized through fur­ther pro­fes­sional re­form on league man­age­ment and youth de­vel­op­ment.

“Pro­fes­sional de­vel­op­ment doesn’t only mean spend­ing heav­ily on hir­ing a renowned for­eign coach and im­port­ing big-name for­eign play­ers; it re­quires the whole soc­cer man­age­ment sys­tem to func­tion pro­fes­sion­ally within a solid struc­ture,” said Cai Zhen­hua, new pres­i­dent of the Chi­nese Foot­ball As­so­ci­a­tion.

Cai made the re­marks at the con­clu­sion of a speech at the as­so­ci­a­tion’s 10th na­tional congress on Wed­nes­day. The as­so­ci­a­tion elected its new ex­ec­u­tive board, in­clud­ing Cai, seven vice-pres­i­dents and two con­sul­tants at the congress. It also amended its long-stand­ing con­sti­tu­tion to deepen re­forms.

Ac­cord­ing to the ad­just­ment, the as­so­ci­a­tion will can­cel its league depart­ment, which used to cen­tral­ize man­age­ment pow­ers for all lev­els of do­mes­tic leagues, hand­ing more de­ci­sion-mak­ing rights to the Chi­nese Su­per League com­pany, which was formed by 16 club share­hold­ers in 2005 to run the league.

The as­so­ci­a­tion will also set up as many as 15 de­part­ments, in­clud­ing an in­de­pen­dent le­gal depart­ment, an ethics and fair­play com­mit­tee and an ar­bi­tra­tion board to mon­i­tor the league’s healthy op­er­a­tion.

“We will place spe­cial­ized tal­ents in dif­fer­ent po­si­tions to take charge of var­i­ous jobs, in­stead of do­ing ev­ery­thing through the as­so­ci­a­tion like be­fore,” said Zhang Jian, the new sec­re­tary-gen­eral of the CFA.

Such moves are ex­pected to solve the prob­lem that the CFA both op­er­ated and su­per­vised the league, which has pro­vided a breed­ing ground for match-fix­ing and bribery scan­dals, said congress rep­re­sen­ta­tives.

“The in­sti­tu­tional change shows the CFA’s ef­forts to sep­a­rate it­self from league op­er­a­tion and only serve as a su­per­vi­sor, which is in line with in­ter­na­tional prac­tice,” said Wang Qi, pres­i­dent of se­cond-tier league club Shen­zhen Ruby.

Chen Peide, for­mer chief of Zhe­jiang pro­vin­cial soc­cer ad­min­is­tra­tion, echoed Wang’s sen­ti­ment, say­ing defin­ing the as­so­ci­a­tion and league com­pa­nies’ re­spec­tive roles will help Chi­nese soc­cer de­velop in a more pro­fes­sional way.

Mean­while, the CFA ex­pects to en­large the scale of the pro­league sys­tem by en­cour­ag­ing more pri­vate in­vestors to es­tab­lish clubs.

Ac­cord­ing to the new 10-year plan re­leased at the congress, there should be at least 38 se­cond- and third-tier league clubs by 2023, 12 more than the cur­rent amount, thus strength­en­ing the game’s foun­da­tion.

Yu Chang­long, rep­re­sen­ta­tive from se­cond-level club Jilin Yan­bian FC, called for more rights on com­mer­cial de­vel­op­ment and tal­ent draft­ing to be given to lower clubs. Their af­fil­i­ated lo­cal sports bu­reaus cur­rently wield most of the power.

At the higher level, mar­ke­to­ri­ented op­er­a­tion, as ex­em­pli­fied by the new AFC Champions League win­ner Guangzhou Ever­grande, should be pro­moted, said in­sid­ers.

Since be­ing taken over by real es­tate com­pany Ever­grande in 2010, the Can­tonese club has boasted pro­fes­sional man­age­ment led by Ital­ian man­ager Mar­cello Lippi, a youth train­ing sys­tem and a re­wards mech­a­nism that mo­ti­vates play­ers.

Its im­pres­sive re­sults in both the do­mes­tic league ( three con­sec­u­tive topleague ti­tles from 2011 to 2013) and Asian com­pe­ti­tions have won praise from China’s top lead­ers.

“Ever­grande has helped im­prove Chi­nese soc­cer’s im­age in­ter­na­tion­ally and set an ex­am­ple for pro­fes­sion­al­iza­tion,” said Cai.

Sun Wen, for­mer women’s na­tional cap­tain and FIFA Fe­male Player of the 20th Cen­tury, said Ever­grande’s huge in­vest­ment was eye­catch­ing and its busi­nesslike op­er­a­tions will help it stay suc­cess­ful.

A solid pro­fes­sional league sys­tem is hoped to ben­e­fit the na­tional team, and the 10-year plan en­vi­sions both the male and fe­male na­tional squads dom­i­nat­ing Asia and chal­leng­ing the world’s best.

WU JUN / FOR CHINA DAILY

Fans of Guangzhou Ever­grande cheer for their team dur­ing a match in Guangzhou, Guang­dong prov­ince, on Nov 9. The team clinched their first AFC Champions ti­tle with a 1-1 draw with FC Seoul.

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