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China: Why is Chinese football so weak?

Recently the New York Times posted the question on “Why does China lag far behind in soccer when it competes so aggressively in many Olympic sports?” and invited a number of experts to answer. Actually similar questions have been raised by Chinese netizens in various QA forums since the beginning of World Cup 2010 and below are a selection of ordinary Chinese people's answers.

Reality VS. Dream

In, a football fan asks: “Why is Chinese football so weak?” at the beginning of the World Cup. Below is the most satisfactory answer for his question:

中国足球为何烂泥扶不上墙?一个重要的原因也许是没有“市场退路”。由于没有“市场退路”,爱好者只能破釜沉舟,只能通过自己的努力,成为“猩猩”级人 物,才能杀出一条血路来,过上较为体面的生活。一旦失败,再回头已是百年身:青春期过了,先前百分百地投入足球运动,则百分百地影响了学习其他知识和记 忆,失败后的足球爱好者其社会谋生能力相当于一个小学生学历的成年人——因为市场不需要这些二三流的足球球员,他们就只能到足球以外的市场觅食!即是说足 球爱好者一旦失败,将陷入万劫不复的深渊,爱好足球风险之高可以以想见。

Why does Chinese football look so muddy? One of the most important reason is the lack of a real market. Football lovers can only act on their own capacity to become famous and enjoy a decent live. If they fail, they lose their youth and ruin their lives as their value has reduced to that of a primary school kid. The football field does not have space for grade 2 or 3 football players and they can only make their living outside the football field. The risk of football lovers is just too high. uses a set of photos, “When can we show our pride in the World Cup?“, to show Chinese people's disappointment towards Chinese football. In the discussion thread, many people believe that the society is too poor to develop a vibrant football culture:


The housing property price is too expensive and inflation keeps raising. Too much pressure for us to focus on football game. Our thoughts are occupied with money making activities and cannot spare more feelings for football game. In China, money is the key to everything – for decent housing and food, for self-esteem. The price of the gap between dream and reality is too huge to pay.

Institutional problem

In SoSo, user Memories got frustrated about the football scene and asked a similar question:


How come Chinese football is so weak, even weaker than North Korea. Our country is so big, how can we fail to recruit 22 great football players?

The most satisfactory answer addresses the issue by referring to the institutional setting:

足球体制“`中国的足球 如果不改变现在体制 / 中国足球的现状大家都是知道的“““改变是很难的““只有从最基本开始改变“““中国足球的氛围到欧洲是很难的““`只有当足球成为中国的国球的时候““那时候才有可能的““`只有达到那种程度 才能一步一步考虑去争夺世界杯的冠军““否则都是扯蛋“““中国在国际的地位造成我们的球员很难出过门去踢比赛,很难有提高,不是来的外籍较量就能有提高,而是要自己的球员自己去提高的。

It is related to our existing system, if we fail to reform the football institution, it is very difficult to bring change to the current situation. Change has to be started from the most fundamental aspect. We need to turn football into our national sport in order to create an atmosphere like the football fever in Europe. Or else it is very difficult for us to step outside China and enter the international world, such as the World Cup. We cannot depend on matching with foreign team for improving our football players’ standard. They have to improve their skill in local matches.

User, Wenwen family, elaborates on the institutional problem:

中超联赛各队,除了某只不计成本的国企球队,实际都在亏损。中国足协却出台什么中超准入标准。什么盈利3000万等等。我 敢断言,中国球队没一只达到这些标准的。足协明知不可为,各队都是弄虚作假,偏偏定这么高的门槛。欧洲五大联赛的准入标准也没这么高,基本只有两条:1、 成绩合格 2、债务不超标

1. Unrealistic planning
Most of the football teams in the Chinese Football Super League, except from those supported by state institutes, are in deficit. Nevertheless, the Chinese Football Associate introduces the policy that requires members of the League to make 30 million yuan profit annually. I am sure that none of the team can make such profit and they have to fake their budget. Such standard is even higher than the European big 5 football leagues. They only have two basic requirements: 1. standard performance, 2. a limited amount of debt.

中国足协自2000年后就酷爱豪赌,先是豪赌世界杯,结果世界杯倒是参与了一 回,但中国足球却至少倒退了十年。2000年以前,好歹中国队还算是亚洲准强队,常年的亚洲老五。经此一赌,现在中国队充其量算亚洲2流,而且还是2流下 游。连8强赛都混不进去了。…

2. Football association's bet
The Chinese Football Association loves betting, they bet about the World Cup and managed to enter once. However, since then, the development of Chinese football have gone through a 10-year setback. Before 2000, Chinese football was a strong team in Asia and ranked number 5. After they lost the bet, we failed to enter the quarter finals….

山东足球扰乱市场 秩序,逆市而上,本无可厚非,谁叫人家是国企,不计成本呢。但鲁能从总经理到球迷都是能吹的了。动不动就中国最强队,中国皇马之类的言谈。今年四大皆空…中国足球之所以不好,就是山东这样好大喜功,不愿自我反省的人太多了。

3. Shandong Luneng's boasting manner
Shandong's football has disrupted the market because they have strong state corporate support. Shandong Luneng's manager keeps saying that they are the strongest team in China, the Real Madrid in China. However, this year, they can't even enter the final four… The boasting manner of the Shandong football is so typical in the Chinese football scene. They don't reflect upon their failure.


4. Order from the Sport Bureau
The Football Association is not leading the Chinese football development, on its top is the Sport Bureau and the Association has to carry out whatever “order”, right or wrong, delivered to them from the Bureau.


7. Policy changes
The ranking of the Chinese Super Football league keeps changing. It is yet unsure if the down grading system still exist next year, from the past experience, they can change the policy even during the Super match.


8. Disregarding football fans’ interest
The policy of Chinese Football Association is to protect their own interest, followed by their clubs’ interest regardless of football fans expectation. It seems that the Association does not want too many football fans in China.

Culture, fate and others

Apart from institutional explanation, there are cultural perspectives. Wise guy believes the problem is related with the nature / culture of being Chinese:

因为中国人不有外国人那么有激情   体力没他们好    没有他们团结

Chinese people are not as passionate as foreigners. And our physical strenght is not as good as them. Finally we don't have enough team spirit.

In another QA thread in SoSo there are more answers to the question:

Sean Faris said:


God will cry when we enter the World Cup. In order to make God happy, we fail.

Dream talk makes 4 points:

1   中国   教练不行     没 别人那   经验  与 素质  
2    中国     道德  品行 有 待  发展    黑哨太多     更别谈好的方面了!
3     球员  深入思想不够   且   踢球  并不尽全力去踢!
4      中国 足球的  长期 堕落  使得 国家 并不关心 中国 足球了!

1. The Chinese football couches are bad in quality and have little experience.
2. We are yet to develop Chinese people's virtue and morality. There are many deals in the dark…
3. Football players are not playing hard as they are side tracked by other considerations.
5. Chinese football has been doomed for a long period of time and the country does not care about it anymore.

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  • Sean

    Wow, it’s pitiful that they don’t even mention the number one reason I always hear from athletes: Chinese players don’t understand teamwork. Look at Chinese basketball and its the same thing, you have the star (usually foreign) players given the ball to try to score with it, you don’t have complex plays.

    China’s Olympic medals are mostly in individual sports. Chinese athletes are renowned for being able to drill and focus on their sport, with state support that can’t be found elsewhere in the world anymore. That they think losses are due to lack of talent supports this individualist talent-only mentality. The team sports they do medal in are those that the rest of the world doesn’t fund as well.

    Look at this world cup even, it’s not always the teams with the most star players that win. The Germany-Argentina was a decent example where Argentina had more stars, yet Germany’s lockstep formations and teamwork won the game.

    None of my Chinese friends are die-hard sports fans, but they do tend to agree with this theory when brought up.

  • RC

    Football/succor is a universal sport. It is gain popularity in US rapidly. This is why US team entered the World Cup and played well. Because it has the population base, and good players can emerge throug hcompetition. How many Chinese kids play football these days and how many hours the kids spend on it? State training and selection system cannot generate a championship team of sprots that are universally popular.

  • Chinese are not yet tested to be bad in football. They’re not just that interested in the game and or the game was introduced late to the continent that’s why people there are not to familiar or lack expertise on the game compared to Europe, Africa or in America.

  • gbmbg

    “Why does Chinese football look so muddy? One of the most important reason is the lack of a real market. Football lovers can only act on their own capacity to become famous and enjoy a decent live. If they fail, they lose their youth and ruin their lives as their value has reduced to that of a primary school kid. The football field does not have space for grade 2 or 3 football players and they can only make their living outside the football field. The risk of football lovers is just too high.”

    I have read this five times and I still don’t know what it’s supposed to mean, in Chinese OR in English. Anyone care to enlighten me?

    • b5b13

      I am not an english speaker, but will try my best to explain in English. errr… in China, people who want to play football as their career need to go to football school since they are young. But the academic level of these football schools are extremely low. So, when they graduate, football is usually the only skill they have, and even these football skills are not that good compared to the world. And you know, only a few players have the chance to play for the nation or the clubs, and then the others need to give up since there is no market for them. For those who give up, they don’t have a high education or a professional skill except football, and finally will hardly find a good job. Therefore, families with good financial situations will never allow their children to play football professionally….

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