Chinese Youth Soccer: Lack of Opportunity or Passion?

Every article I have read about soccer in China contains a distinct, DSC05428recurring theme: although soccer is popular to watch, playing soccer simply does not have the same traction en masse.  While the previous article I discussed dealt with problems of cultural views and governmental intervention, “A Soccer Problem in China: Where to Play” focuses on the logistical issues of the sport.  The authors start by emphasizing the passion for watching the sport and then quickly attempt to explain the extremely unsuccessful state of Chinese soccer.  The first explanation comes from widespread corruption, but this is quickly replaced by an analysis of more diffuse cultural issues.

This article focuses on the significant space requirements needed for soccer fields and therefore the limited availability of places to play.  The article points out the success of American youth soccer and bases that on the availability of quality soccer fields.  There is an emphasis on the lack of Chinese soccer fields, both in cities and in the country, leading to a poverty of opportunities to play the sport.  While it is true that a soccer fields are relatively uncommon in China, this argument does not hold up well under more serious scrutiny.  Several of the best players in the world, particularly from Africa and South America, have arisen from notoriously poor areas without soccer fields.  The iconic images of Brazilian children playing pickup soccer on the beaches stands as a testament to the unessential nature of a true soccer field.  I remember growing up listening to players talking about practicing by kicking a tennis ball against the side of their house. So while lack of soccer fields definitely limits the opportunities for Chinese children to play, it seems that the underlying issue involves a lack of passion for playing soccer.

While there is a consistent emphasis on the Chinese love of soccer, there appears to be a cultural discontinuity between watching and playing.  The article refers to an interview by Lu Jun, the head of the Beijing Guoan Football Club, in which he says that Chinese children lack the drive to play the sport. In other words, China lacks the unscheduled and impromptu pickup games that in Europe and South America are very common and essential to the development of younger players.  This raises an interesting question: is there a lack of passion for actually playing soccer?  Can a country love a sport, but simply not like to play it?  If so, it would be interesting to explore the reasons underlying this dichotomy between watching and playing.  This also holds interesting implications for my research because I plan on going to pickup games in Beijing. It will be interesting to see what people there think of the cultural attitude toward pickup games, especially if they come from another part of China.  One possibility is that it takes a hub of activity like Beijing to bring together enough people passionate about actually playing the sport for there to be pickup games.