Xinjiang kids hope to help China become major global player
Asat orren ti al downpour unloaded on a Beijing soccer field on a summer day, a group of boys from the Uygur ethnic group played on. Their coach, Parhat Mamtemin, called in vain for them to come in from the rain. “They take no notice,” he said, with a sigh.
The team, from Moyu county, Hotan prefecture, in the south of the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region, has just completed a national youth soccer tournament in Jinzhou in the northeastern province of Liaoning.
They swept the field with 11 wins and no losses, scoring 92 goals. It was the team’s bestever performance.
“I used to play forward in our team, like (Cristiano) Ronaldo,” said 12-year-old Azimat, wistfully.
However, unlike his Portuguese idol, Azimat missed a number of chances to score, so, taking the boy’s calm character into account, coach Parhat made him the goalkeeper. In Jinzhou, Azimat conceded just three goals, and made a great contribution to the team’s performance.
Azimat’s parents were less supportive of their son’s talent when he joined the team. “Many parents in China still do not recognize the importance of children playing sports,” Parhat said. “All sports, including soccer, are just recreation in their opinion.”
In the early days, some parents interrupted Parhat’s training sessions and forced their children to leave.
But as they sawthe team fly around the country to play games, the parents gradually accepted their children’s passion for the “beautiful game”.
“They realized that soccer can broaden their children’s horizons,” said Parhat, who teaches Chinese and math at the primary school in Kawak village in Moyu county. He established the school soccer team in 2006, training the young players after class. To date, 40 boys have played in the team, and in the past 10 years, more than 200 students have joined training sessions.
None have become professional soccer players. “Our school is so remote that few soccer teams come to select potential young players,” Parhat said.
The school occasionally misses out on match fixture information, too.
“Our team represents the general condition of grassroots school soccer in Xinjiang,” Parhat said. “But the children love playing.”
The region also lacks flat pitches and a professional training system. Parhat’s team is lucky to be funded by the local government, the education bureau and donations, which allowed the children to travel to Spain in April for a month-long training program.
Each team member has his own dream. Azimat yearns to play in the forward position again like his hero, Ronaldo, while Parhat wants to lead his boys to glory in the county competition and make soccer a specialty at his primary school.
As of June, the Ministry of Education had approved soccer as a specialty subject at 14,000 schools nationwide.
In April, the national development drive was endorsed in a government plan that set the goal of China entering soccer’s “elite club” and becoming a “top-class soccer nation” by 2050.
The 14-page document, The Medium and Long-Term Plan for Chinese Soccer Development, outlined a vision of the sport’s progress to 2050 and introduced pragmatic measures to achieve the goal.
By 2020, China will have 20,000 specialist soccer schools, and 30 million elementary and middle school students will be among more than 50 million active participants in thegame, accordingto the plan.
All soccer schools, colleges and universities should have at least one standard pitch. In the next four years, 60,000 pitches nationwide will be renovated, refurbished or built, and at least two standard pitches will be built for public use in each county, except in mountainous areas.
“So-called specialist soccer schools teach every student to master soccer skills,” said Wang Dengfeng, director of the ministry’s department of physical, health and arts education.
“In terms of popularity and cognitive level, China’s school soccer is experiencing a golden era.”
“In spite of this, many sports, including soccer, still face indifference, a shortage of coaches, and a lack of fixtures,” Wang said. “Sports are not on China’s education curriculum, except for the entrance examination for secondary school.”
To improve the situation, the ministry has trained 15,000 school soccer coaches across the country and issued a video training guide to schools nationwide. Wang said a newschool soccer syllabus will be issued this month.
The plan stipulates that one pitch must serve every 20,000 people by 2020 and every 10,000 people by 2030 to realize the goal of becoming a global soccer power.
However, Wang said, urban areas don’t have enough space for soccer pitches, while rural areas lack money.
“Matches are the perfect platform to promote sports,” he said, adding that he would like to see a soccer competition system in primary and middle schools, and also in colleges.
“Regional leagues must be optimized,” Wang said, arguing that the best players at the prefectural, municipal, provincial and national levels will emerge from the leagues. China Features is a feature department of Xinhua News Agency, which writes in-depth stories for overseas readers.
Many parents in China still do not recognize the importance of children playing sports. All sports, including soccer, are just recreation in their opinion.” Parhat Mamtem in, coach of a teenage soccer team from Moyu county, the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region
A player for the Beijing Xuanwu Huimin Primary School team heads the ball during a match at the 14th National Children's Football Tournament in Yantai, Shandong province, in August.
Children play soccer on a sidewalk in Kashgar in the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region.
Members of a village soccer team practice in Xuanen county, Hubei province, during the summer vacation in July.