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China aims to see its soccer teams among world’s best

March 16, 2015

BEIJING (AP) — China’s Cabinet released a reform plan Monday aimed at raising the level of soccer in the country, where poor international showings have been blamed on a history of corruption and a lack of youth programs.

Medium term goals in the plan issued by the State Council include substantially increasing the number of young people playing soccer and seeing the women’s team return to the top of the rankings.

In the long term, China wants to bid to host the World Cup and improve its men’s team.

Chinese President Xi Jinping has led the drive to improve the quality of Chinese soccer, both to boost popular participation in sports and burnish China’s reputation as an international sporting power.

The Cabinet’s 50-point plan includes instructions to promote soccer on school campuses, create schools dedicated to training aspiring professional players and expand the number of stadiums.

It also gives the China Football Association the power to independently decide its own staffing and financing, rather than being run by China’s sporting administrative body.

Authorities will also look at putting a cap on players’ salaries in order to increase competition between rich and poor teams and avoid financially destabilizing bidding wars. The plan said research will also be done into further restricting the use of foreign players, only five of whom are currently permitted per team.

China’s lack of success in men’s soccer has consistently perplexed the country’s sporting authorities, who’ve made the country a global power in sports such as gymnastics, swimming and volleyball.

China’s men are currently ranked 83rd by FIFA, one rung below Honduras. They’ve qualified for only one World Cup, in 2002, when they were eliminated in the group stage without scoring a goal.

The team’s poor performance is blamed on a history of corruption, overly bureaucratic government supervision and a weak youth training system that has seen the numbers of registered youngsters playing the game fall year by year.

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