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China passes reform plan to boost soccer competence   


2015-02-28 08:34 Xinhua Web Editor: Gu Liping

China's central reform group, chaired by President Xi Jinping, on Friday passed a plan to revive soccer, a sport that has been for years a source of national embarrassment.

Read more: President Xi presses concrete reform measures

"We must develop and revitalize soccer to ensure we are a strong nation of sports," according to a statement issued after a meeting of the central reform leading group.

"It is the desperate desire of the people as well."

China must overcome its "defective system", which has impeded the development of the game, and provide better "institutional guarantees" for its progress, the statement said.

More efforts should be made at the grassroots level to nurture young talents and to ensure the integration of professional clubs, school teams and amateur teams, added the statement.

In stark contrast to its huge success in many other sports, China has only ever qualified for the World Cup once, in 2002, when the team was eliminated at the group stage without scoring a single goal. Its most recent humiliating performance was a 5-1 loss to Thailand's Under-23 team in 2013.

President Xi, an avowed soccer fan like hundreds of millions of his compatriots, has bemoaned the disappointing results from the national team as an embarrassment.

In the past few months, a high-level government working group has been set up to tackle the problem. The Ministry of Education has declared soccer a compulsory part of the national curriculum. About 20,000 soccer schools are to open by 2017, with the goal of producing more than 100,000 players. Study-abroad programs have also been rolled out.

There already seem signs of recovery. Last month, Chinese men's national team won three group games in a row at the Asian Cup before going down 2-0 to hosts Australia in the quarterfinals.

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