China, which began the third term of Xi Jinping’s regime only a month ago and is shouting with enthusiasm, “Opening a new era,” is not unusual. Protests against iron-fisted authoritarian rule continue in key cities including Beijing and Shanghai. In Shanghai, slogans of “step back” openly spoke of the “Communist Party” and “Xi Jinping,” and in Beijing, “become a citizen, not a slave” shouted in.
Citizens’ opposition to the oppressive rule that has been sealed unconditionally for almost three years has begun to falter. The World Cup football tournament being held in Qatar is being marked as an opportunity for the Chinese to vent their anger at being blocked. It is said that the Chinese who watched the relay saw people in the stands not wearing masks at all, and the awareness of “what is this” and “what are we just” is spreading.
It is not only the mask issue that the Qatar World Cup has touched to anger the Chinese people. While other Asian countries such as Korea, Japan, Saudi Arabia and Australia have reached the finals without fail, there is a great sense of defeat that the Chinese national team is nowhere to be found. ‘Small countries’ that are incomparable in terms of population are stirring up the stage of the World Cup, ‘the biggest sports festival of the global village’, and the wounds of pride that have been received as the ‘big country’ with a population of 1.4 billion is removed from the prerequisites are stacked layer by layer.
While Korea has reached the finals 11 times, including 10 in a row, China has only reached the finals once, during the Korea-Japan World Cup 2002. Only thanks to the fact that Korea and Japan , the ‘regional leaders’, automatically advanced to the finals as co-hosts, making the Asian qualifiers easier. In Qatar’s final qualifying round, they lost 1-3 to Vietnam, who they had never lost before, adding to the shame of being eliminated at the bottom of the group.
I don’t know if China is a country that doesn’t have much interest in football, but actually it’s the opposite. Chinese supreme leader Xi Jinping is a well-known football fanatic. In public appearances, he said he had the ‘Three Big Wishes for Chinese Football’, and even mentioned advancing to the World Cup finals, hosting the World Cup, and winning the World Cup. With the calculation of weakening the dissatisfaction of the people with an authoritarian dictatorship with football, they push the ‘football progress’ at the national level. Immediately after taking office, he issued a special order for the Communist Party to establish a “medium and long-term development plan for Chinese football,” and even released an official report through the National Development Planning Commission in 2015. Established The ‘Chinese Football Reform Committee’ led by the minor league and contained a blueprint to “create the world’s strongest team by 2050.”
Using the report as a sign, the ‘football process’ began in earnest. Saying, “To be the best in the world, you need to have the best leaders in the world,” he recruited Brazilian and Italian coaches who have won national championships as national team coaches. He said, “You must play with excellent players to improve the skills of Chinese players.” He spent a lot of money to attract top foreign players to his home country’s professional league, and also worked hard to naturalize China. This is the reason why the Chinese national team that participated in the preliminary round of the Qatar tournament included three Brazilians and two British players.
Even then, instead of progressing to the finals, they were scorned by mid-ranked teams in regions such as Oman and Vietnam, and were eliminated last in the final qualifying round. Trying to ease discontent with the iron rule through football alone was just putting salt on the people.
There are many different interpretations as to why Chinese football is struggling so badly despite extensive training and support at the national level. Among them, the most striking is the diagnosis of finding the cause in the ‘guanxi culture’. The Chinese culture of forming exclusive relationships with only those close to each other to work things out is said to be ruining teamwork, the lifeblood of football, from the ground up. A lot of time has passed since accusations like “No matter how promising a player is, he cannot play as a starting player for his team without guanxi” and “Chinese players in the national team do not transfer to natural players”.
However, it is difficult to find concerns about these fundamental issues in the Chinese government’s ‘progress of football’ project. It’s a concern for people around the world that it’s not just football.