China aims to gain glory through football

Photo: Wikimedia

Chinese national football team 2011. Photo: Wikimedia Commons


By Luca Arfini
China holds 36% of the sponsorship deals of the 2018 FIFA World Cup, according to new report, thus building on the country’s ambition to become a football superpower.

According to a recent review into the sponsorship agreements entered for the 2018 FIFA World Cup, published by auditor company KPMG Football Benchmark, sponsorships have reached $200 million more than the expected amount of $1.45 billion.

The findings show that seven out of 19 sponsors are from China, for KPMG this a sign of the country’s efforts in becoming a football ‘superpower’ by 2050, an ambition that has recently been formally included in China’s economic plan, in which sport has become a strategic instrument.  

In 2014, Chinese President Xi Jinping’s government published a guideline intended to boost the Chinese sports industry, presented as a central part of China’s economic plan. The hope is, according to the National Law Review, to make the country a leader of the global fitness market in a short period of time.

According to Liu Dongfeng, professor at the school of economics and management at the Shanghai University of Sport, the idea is to include football in China´s reformation plan to become a global leader.

“It’s Xi Jinping’s version of making China great again,” he said to Bloomberg. “Football is not necessarily the means to that end, but football should at least match that status. It’s really hard to find the correct word to describe it—it’s massive. There’s no parallel.”

China is estimated to spend $835m in advertisement for this year’s FIFA World Cup, which corresponds to 1.0% of the entire ad market related to the entire World Cup, writes The Drum, a European marketing website.

“Just imagine what kind of glorious legacy Xi will have if he can indeed bring China from being a laughingstock of the world into a serious soccer superpower," Guoqi Xu, professor of history at the University of Hong Kong, said to ESPN. "That is something even the great Deng Xiaoping, (the former Chinese leader), did not manage to deliver!"

1% of the country's GDP by 2020

According to GlobalSportsJobs, the change in the Chinese marketplace started 30 years ago, when the Chinese government began to understand the economic and political value of the sports sector.

However, the first real attempt to stimulate the Chinese sports industry embracing a larger market scale was made in 2010, when China’s State Council issued a ‘Guiding Opinion’.

Last year, in China's 13th 5-year plan, it was stated that the Chinese sports industry should produce at least 1% of the country's GDP by 2020.

The ultimate goal would be to increase the sports industry’s spending from around $50 billion to a $750-800 billion industry by 2026 and to ensure the sports participation of more than one-third of the Chinese population, writes GlobalSportsJobs.

Chinese sponsorship deals have grown exponentially since 2015, reaching $18 billion in the beginning of 2017.

China’s efforts to become a football superpower are clear, but as Dr Robert Webb, of the Nottingham University Business School, points out, this operation will require some time.

“China doesn’t have 140+ years of football history to fall back on. So, they’re learning from the Western countries, absorbing our methods, our culture, our coaching, our football business. But the subtleties, the nuance will take time, despite all the money. It needs to be cultivated, similar to the way China has embraced western education. It will come, but in a longer time-frame,” he said to How to Watch Football.

Indeed, China's men's team is currently ranked 75th in the latest FIFA World Ranking. So far, the country has only participated in the 2002 World Cup, where it lost all matches without scoring even a single goal.

More information

Find the KPMG review here.
Find the 2018 FIFA World Ranking here.
Find the Chinese government's guideline (in Chinese) here.

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