Soccer dream

Xin­jiang kids hope to help China be­come ma­jor global player

China Daily (USA) - - FRONT PAGE -

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.”

Broad­en­ing hori­zons

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.

Golden era

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.”

Set­ting goals

“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

TANG KE / XIN­HUA

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.

HUANG XIAOYONG / XIN­HUA

Chil­dren play soccer on a side­walk in Kash­gar in the Xin­jiang Uygur au­ton­o­mous re­gion.

SONG WEN / XIN­HUA

Mem­bers of a vil­lage soccer team prac­tice in Xua­nen county, Hubei prov­ince, dur­ing the sum­mer va­ca­tion in July.

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