Play­ing for the na­tion

Ef­forts to woo tal­ented over­seas ath­letes of Chi­nese ori­gin back to home­land im­peded by red tape

Global Times - Weekend - - FRONT PAGE - By Liu Xin and Shan Jie

Aseries of re­cent ef­fort to grant pass­ports to over­seas ath­letes of Chi­nese ori­gin so they can rep­re­sent the na­tion has caused heated dis­cus­sions on whether the gov­ern­ment should make the process eas­ier.

Bei­jing Guoan, a pro­fes­sional Chi­nese soc­cer club, is re­port­edly ready to sign two play­ers that are un­der the nat­u­ral­iz­ing process, Hou Yongy­ong from Nor­way and Nico Yen­naris, an English pro­fes­sional soc­cer player.

They are ex­pected to play in the 2019 Chi­nese Su­per League (CSL), Bei­jing Sports Ra­dio re­ported on Thurs­day.

Hou, 20, im­mi­grated to Nor­way from He­nan Prov­ince in China when he was a young boy. He cur­rently plays for Elite­se­rien, one of north­ern Europe’s ma­jor soc­cer leagues. In 2014, Hou was given the youth foot­ball player award by the Nor­way Soc­cer As­so­ci­a­tion.

Nico Yen­naris, who is signed to Brent­ford Foot­ball Club, trained in the Arse­nal youth sys­tem and is also re­garded as tal­ented full­back. His grand­par­ents were from Guang­dong Prov­ince in China.

They will be the first nat­u­ral­ized play­ers to play in the CSL once the nat­u­ral­iz­ing process is fin­ished, and are ex­pected to im­prove Guoan’s per­for­mance, Bei­jing Sports Ra­dio re­ported.

Re­cruit­ing tal­ent

This is the lat­est news on China’s ef­forts to lure more over­seas sports tal­ents of Chi­nese ori­gin back to the coun­try.

Bev­erly Zhu, who was born in Los An­ge­les, will train to­gether with five Chi­nese ice dancers from Sun­day to the end of De­cem­ber in three venues – two in the US and one in Bei­jing – for the up­com­ing Win­ter Olympic Games, the Bei­jing News re­ported on Tues­day.

Al­though there is no spe­cific in­for­ma­tion from au­thor­i­ties on Zhu Yi’s giv­ing up her Amer­i­can ci­ti­zen­ship, Chi­nese ex­perts said that an ath­lete has to be a Chi­nese ci­ti­zen in order to join the na­tional train­ing team.

Zhang Lu, who quit the top po­si­tion at the Guoan club in 2017 and now is a Bei­jing-based soc­cer com­men­ta­tor, said that nat­u­ral­iz­ing play­ers is a con­ve­nient and fast way to bring tal­ent to the na­tional team.

Zhang said that it is hard to say whether nat­u­ral­iz­ing over­seas plays will be use­ful to pro­mote China’s men soc­cer team. He noted that pre­vi­ously a Chi­nese coach had tried to nat­u­ral­ize some African youth play­ers, but none of them turned pro­fes­sional in the end.

Luo Le, a doc­tor in sports so­ci­ol­ogy grad­u­ated from Bei­jing Sport Univer­sity and now works for Ti­tan Sports Me­dia Group, shares the same con­cerns with Zhang. He said that “re­ly­ing on one or two nat­u­ral­ized play­ers could not res­cue the na­tional men’s team from a hell on earth… how­ever, some ex­cel­lent play­ers may in­spire other play­ers in the team, which could be bet­ter for the na­tional team.”

For some in­di­vid­ual sports, in­clud­ing ice skat­ing, nat­u­ral­iz­ing ath­letes may im­prove Chi­nese teams’ com­pet­i­tive­ness and the suc­cess sto­ries of some out­stand­ing play­ers could also en­cour­age more chil­dren to join in the sports, ac­cord­ing to Luo.

In ad­di­tion to ex­press­ing their pas­sion for the home­land, nat­u­ral­ized play­ers may have bet­ter chance to earn bet­ter salaries in China, Luo said.

Ac­cord­ing to a re­port from news site thep­a­, Hou’s mother once said that she hoped her son could wear the Chi­nese na­tional team’s uni­form and play for the na­tion.

Not an easy process

How­ever, it is not an easy process for foot­ball clubs to nat­u­ral­ize play­ers.

There are reg­u­la­tions on nat­u­ral­ized play­ers com­pet­ing in in­ter­na­tional games.

The Fédéra­tion In­ter­na­tionale de Foot­ball As­so­ci­a­tion (FIFA) said nat­u­ral­ized play­ers or their par­ents or grand­par­ents must have been born on the ter­ri­tory of their new coun­try, or they must have lived there for five years as an adult .

Song Quancheng, head of the In­sti­tute of Mi­gra­tion Stud­ies at Shan­dong Univer­sity, told the Global Times on Thurs­day that since China does not rec­og­nize dual na­tion­al­ity, the play­ers, in order to play for the Chi­nese na­tional teams, have to give up their pre­vi­ous na­tion­al­i­ties. This has be­come a bar­rier for nat­u­ral­iz­ing tal­ent in China.

Song said that in sci­ence field, the Chi­nese gov­ern­ment has pref­er­en­tial pro­grams to re­cruit over­seas tal­ent to serve the coun­try. Song be­lieved that in sports, it is cur­rently dif­fer­ent and more dif­fi­cult, and that should change.

“The pol­icy for at­tain­ing Chi­nese na­tion­al­ity should be sim­pli­fied for tal­ented ath­letes,” Song said. “Cur­rently every coun­try is com­pet­ing to at­tract tal­ent, and China should also go with the flow.”

Photo: VCG

Cedric Bakambu (cen­ter), a French-born soc­cer player, plays for Guoan in a game of the Chi­nese FA Cup with Guangzhou R&F Foot­ball Club on Septem­ber 26 in Guangzhou, South China’s Guang­dong Prov­ince.

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