Chinese success on sporting stage not being replicated on soccer fields
BEIJING - China is widely regarded as a sporting powerhouse after topping the medal standings with 51 gold at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
However, while the host dominated in its traditionally strong events like table tennis and badminton, it struggled in major team events. The Chinese Olympic soccer team was knocked out of the Olympic Games at the group stage and the men's basketball squad only finished eighth.
The Chinese soccer team has also made only one appearance in that sport's showcase event, the World Cup - at the 2002 tournament in Japan and South Korea.
Negligence in promoting those sports was the reason for China's lack of competitiveness, Jin Shan, from the Beijing Academy of Social Science, said at the Second Sino-German Football Forum held in Beijing from Oct 21-23.
"It's true that China needs to build up its image by striving for good results in competitive sports, but it might have guided us to another extreme, and the over-emphasis on results has led to our neglecting grass-roots sport, which is more important," Jin said.
The country might be able to pick up a good lesson from Germany. In a survey conducted by the German Sport University Cologne, more than 92 percent of the participants attributed that country's soccer success to the popularity of the sport around the nation.
"The achievement of popularizing sport (around the country) is more important than winning a bronze medal (at the 2010 World Cup)," said Dr Jurgen Buschmann from the Olympic Studies Center at the German Sport University Cologne.
The three-time World Cup champion, which entered and shone at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa with a bunch of vigorous young players, launched "The Golden Plan" in 1960, with the target to build many sports facilities close to neighborhoods and schools.
Up to now, Germany has invested 22 billion euro ($30.6 billion) to develop grassroots sport through "The Golden Plan".
"Most of our stadiums are owned by soccer associations and are free to the public. Some private stadiums appeared recently, they are always fully booked, though expensive. They are where you can see the popularity of soccer in Germany," said Buschmann, who also works as an information analyst for the German national team.
According to official statistics, there are more than 6.5 million players registered with the German Football Association, while China only has about 50,000. The number of China's teenage players has dropped to 7,000; Germany has about 2 million and China's neighbor Japan 600,000.
"Some of China's soccer clubs have made a lot of efforts (to develop youth training), but the biggest problem for us is there are fewer and fewer children playing soccer," said Zhang Lu, vice-chairman of Chinese Super League club Beijing Guo'an. "We have the channel, but there is no water.
"Chinese soccer should start with the kids, and we must help them build a solid foundation and allow them to grow step by step," Zhang said. "Meanwhile, we have to make children happy by playing sport, you can't force them to run 800 meters or 10,000 meters, which will make them exhausted and bored.
"It will take China at least 20 years to reap the fruits in soccer if we start to popularize the sport among kids from now ... what we are learning now is to plant the tree in a right and healthy way," he said.