Chinese teams disband in droves, Xi Jinping’s ‘soccer dream’ shattered – Chinese Communist Party abuses soccer diplomacy, reducing soccer to a “Belt and Road” doorstop

Xi Jinping is keen on soccer diplomacy. Xi Jinping is pictured playing soccer at Croke Park Stadium in Dublin during a visit to Ireland in 2012.

Xi Jinping, who is seen as looking up to Mao Zedong, is not as lucky as the former in at least one respect – Mao cheated the United States and free society with his “ping-pong diplomacy,” while Xi’s much-touted “soccer diplomacy” has ended up in a mess. The “soccer diplomacy” that Xi Jinping has been promoting has only ended up in a mess.

A large number of teams have been disbanded and the Chinese soccer industry is in jail

At the end of March this year, the Chinese Football Association officially announced the list of participants for the new season of the third tier league, and not only Jiangsu, the defending Chinese Super League champion, was out, but three other Chinese League One teams also withdrew. According to the Tianjin Daily, a wave of disbandments in the Chinese B League has been spreading since last year, with nearly 20 teams disbanded in total.

According to an April article by the Chinese media outlet (link), Chinese professional soccer, one of the first sports industries in China to test the waters of market-oriented reform, is in jail. The article recalled that there was a “golden age” for Chinese soccer. For example, on July 23, 2015, Evergrande narrowly defeated Bundesliga giants Bayern by 5:4.

The article claims that this was the result of golden yuan soccer, and that Chinese soccer has seen the craziest capital investment ever, for example, according to Oriental Sports Daily, which shows that the transfer investment in the Chinese Super League market swelled rapidly from 72.17 million euros in 2014 to 403 million euros in 2017. The article argues that China’s “golden yuan soccer” is about “social and government relations”.

Despite the investment comparable to that of the English Premier League, Chinese soccer’s performance is unimpressive. Chen Xuyuan, president of the Chinese Football Association, said on December 14 last year that “gold yuan soccer” erodes the body of healthy soccer, “Chinese clubs invest three times more than in the J League (Japanese professional league) and ten times more than in the K League (Korean professional league); the wages of first-line players are 5.8 times more than in the J League and 11.6 times more than in Korea. 11.6 times”, yet the Chinese men’s national team at all levels has not entered the world tournament for 15 to 20 years.

Xi Jinping’s “soccer dream” smashed in his own hands

Despite the fact that Chinese soccer has failed to reach the World Cup, Xi Jinping wants to dominate the future of soccer.

As the most influential international sport and the “global language,” soccer has always been an area that the Chinese Communist Party and Xi Jinping covet to control, according to New Times, the BBC and other foreign media.

On July 4, 2011, Xi Jinping revealed his soccer dreams when he met with South Korean officials. (Newsflash screenshot)

According to land media reports, Xi Jinping revealed his soccer dreams when he met with South Korean officials in 2011, “China’s World Cup appearance, hosting World Cup matches and winning the World Cup are my three wishes.”

(Screenshot from the party media People’s Daily Online)

In 2014, Xi Jinping played the soccer card during his visit to Europe, frequently mentioning soccer during his visits to the Netherlands, France and Germany, and highlighting his fan status, which was hailed as “Mr. Football” on the diplomatic stage by the party media.

In March 2015, Xi introduced the “General Plan for the Development and Reform of Chinese Football”, which sets the goal of hosting the World Cup and getting men’s soccer into the World Cup, and plans to increase the number of schools with 5,000 soccer characteristics to 20,000 by 2020 and 50,000 by 2025. (BBC report link)

There has been a mad rush of powerful capital into the soccer industry.

In January 2015, China’s Wanda Group acquired a 20% stake in Atletico Madrid in Spain’s Primera Division, making it the first Chinese investment in a top European soccer club.

In the second half of 2015, HNA Group and Starburst Entertainment even competed for the acquisition of La Liga club Espanyol, with Starburst eventually winning and taking a controlling stake in Espanyol in November 2015.

In June 2016, Suning Group spent 270 million euros to acquire about 70% of the shares of Serie A team Inter Milan.

In July 2016, Fosun Group spent 45 million pounds to acquire English Championship team Wolverhampton Wanderers (Wolverhampton Wanderers) and smashed a huge sum to fund Wolverhampton Wanderers’ re-promotion to the English Premier League.

In August 2016, China-Europa Sports signed a contract to acquire 99.93% of Serie A club AC Milan for 740 million euros, but the payment process was delayed due to tighter domestic financial controls, and the delivery was finally completed in March 2017.

According to a 2016 report by the party media People’s Daily Online (link), Chinese consortia acquired stakes in at least 15 overseas soccer clubs between 2014 and 2016.

Only instead of helping Xi realize his soccer dreams, the money rolling in corrupted Chinese soccer into a joke and eventually ushered in Xi Jinping’s own heavy hand.

The New York Times reported on May 30, 2018 (link) that the CCP began cracking down on what it calls “irrational investment” (including in soccer clubs) in 2017, and charged a heavy 100% tax on cross-border transfer fees.

According to a 2017 report by Chinese media outlet Sina Sports (link), on June 14 of that year, the Chinese Football Association (CFA) introduced a policy of “aid mediation fees” to limit the attraction of foreign players at high prices, charging clubs in a loss-making position an amount equal to their transfer fees.

On June 14, 2017, the CFA published a notice on the solicitation of the “Regulations on the Charging of the Reinforcement Mediation Fee during the 2017 Summer Registration and Transfer Period”. (Web Screenshot)

January 2018 CCP Ministry of Commerce data show (CCP State Council link) that China’s outbound investment fell by about 30% year-on-year in 2017, with “no new projects in the real estate, sports and entertainment industries” and “irrational outbound investment was effectively curbed last year “

The New Times described these CCP restrictions as part of Xi Jinping’s campaign to crack down on corruption and capital flight.

In 2018, Wanda Group, which has been targeted by the CCP, sold a 17 percent stake in Atlético Madrid.

In 2019, Fosun Group is interested in selling a 20 percent stake in Wolves, according to mainland media reports.

Suning Group, which bought Inter Milan for a huge sum of money, was even worse off, disbanding the Jiangsu soccer club that won the title last year at the end of February 2021 and making an announcement to bring in state capital, forcing it to “sell out” to save itself. In January this year, Italian media reported that Suning was calling for the sale of Inter Milan.

The dismal state of China’s soccer industry shows that Xi Jinping’s “soccer dream” has been reduced to a pipe dream – from the number of soccer schools to World Cup appearances and even winning the championship, almost all of the goals have failed to materialize, except for the political schemes, such as the “One Belt, One Road” campaign in the name of soccer. The “One Belt, One Road” and infiltration of international sports institutions.

One Belt, One Road infiltrates China’s soccer dream

Although he has failed to make his mark in the arena, Xi has not given up his efforts off the pitch.

Xi Jinping meets with FIFA President Gianni Infantino at the Great Hall of the People on June 14, 2017. (Screenshot from the party media Xinhua)

Xi Jinping met with FIFA (Federation Internationale de Football Association) President Gianni Infantino at the Great Hall of the People in June 2017.

In 2018, Chinese soccer failed to reach that year’s World Cup in Russia, but matched the United States as the country with the most sponsors. The New Times reported on May 30, 2018, that due to FIFA corruption and the human rights scandal in Russia, the Chinese Communist Party took advantage of the situation and filled the World Cup sponsorship gap left by the withdrawal of major Western corporations.

The New Times reported on October 24, 2019 (link) that FIFA “talks about soccer and avoids mentioning human rights” in China. The New Times reported that FIFA President Gianni Infantino only criticized human rights in free countries such as the United States and Canada, but never mentioned the Chinese Communist Party’s human rights persecution of the Chinese people.

The FIFA corruption scandal that broke out in 2015 had shocked the world. According to the BBC, New Times and other foreign media, FIFA had been using international events such as the World Cup to corrupt for decades, and was finally uncovered only after the U.S. intervened and several top FIFA officials were convicted.

The FIFA scandal has not only been exploited by Chinese companies, but also by Chinese Communist Party officials.

Chinese sports official Zhang Jilong replaced AFC President Harman, who was suspended for corruption, as a FIFA executive member for the 2011-2013 term. He is also the first Chinese Communist Party official to reach the top decision-making level of FIFA.

In 2016, FIFA carried out a comprehensive reform to rid itself of its corrupt image, replacing the original 25-member FIFA Executive Committee with a 37-member FIFA Council (FIFA Council). Zhang Jian, then executive vice president of the Chinese Football Association, was added to the FIFA Council for the period 2017-2019.

In April 2019, CFA Party Secretary Du Zhaocai was elected to the FIFA Council for the term 2019-2023.

FIFA directors are elected for a four-year term, and their duties include meeting to consider and decide on the venue, game schedule and number of teams to participate in the World Cup. The steady penetration of Chinese Communist Party officials into the FIFA Council means Xi Jinping is one small step closer to his soccer dreams, albeit still off the pitch.

At the same time, Chinese companies are using soccer to help the Communist government advance Xi’s expansion strategies such as the Belt and Road.

For example, Suning Group, which bought Inter Milan in 2016, has made no secret of its willingness to play for the Communist Party’s Belt and Road, and in March 2017, Suning Chairman Zhang Neary proposed a CPPCC motion at the Communist Party’s two sessions calling for Chinese companies to respond to the Communist Party’s “Belt and Road” strategy of exporting to the outside world. (Link)

In August 2017, Suning Group held the “One Belt, One Road” Suning Cup – International Youth Football Invitational Tournament (link).

(Screenshot from Suning’s official website)

It is worth mentioning that Suning not only promoted a soccer tournament named “One Belt, One Road”, but also invited a soccer team from Yili, Xinjiang to play in the context of international condemnation of the Communist Party’s atrocities in Xinjiang. Many U.S. and European governments and international organizations have verified that the Chinese Communist Party has committed crimes against humanity in Xinjiang. Since last year multiple governments have imposed sanctions on CCP officials and entities suspected of human rights abuses.

In 2018, Suning Group once again organized the “One Belt, One Road” International Youth Football Invitational Tournament.

The 2019 edition of the Belt and Road International Youth Football Tournament is co-hosted by the CCP’s Jiangxi Football Association and the local government in Nanchang (link to media report).

Chinese companies sponsoring the 2018 World Cup are not afraid to forget the task of promoting the Belt and Road. For example, according to a 2017 Reuters report (link), Mengniu said in a press release that it was leveraging the surging energy of the World Cup to develop its industrial chain in more countries along the Belt and Road.

Xinhua reported that the “Belt and Road Cup” international beach soccer tournament organized by the Chinese Communist Party “has become an international A-class tournament approved by FIFA. (Xinhua screenshot)

Not content with private promotion, the Chinese Communist Party even directly promoted the tournament under the name of “One Belt, One Road” under the banner of FIFA.

Official media Xinhua reported on April 22, 2019 (link) that the Belt and Road Cup International Beach Soccer Invitational Tournament held in Haikou, China, “has become a FIFA-approved international A-class tournament.

Beach soccer is one of the three official FIFA tournaments. The CFA founded the “Belt and Road Cup” Haikou International Invitational Beach Soccer Tournament in 2017, on the eve of the first “Belt and Road” International Cooperation Summit Forum of the Communist Party of China, and held the second and third tournaments in 2018 and 2019.

According to a 2017 report by the mainland media (link), the CFA also organized the 2017 “Belt and Road Cup” (Dalian) Beach Soccer International Invitation Tournament in Dalian, Liaoning Province.

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has not even let go of the FIFA ONLINE tournament, holding a special “Belt and Road” national e-sports competition in 2019 (media link).

In July 2017, the CPC General Administration of Sports and the National Tourism Administration issued the “Action Plan for the Development of Sports Tourism on the “Belt and Road” (2017-2020)” (download on the official website of the CPC), instructing local governments to use the development of sports tourism to promote the construction of the “Belt and Road”.

Commentator Li Linyi analyzed the future of Chinese soccer, saying, “The CFA’s recently implemented unisex club name reform may become the last straw that crushes the Chinese soccer industry, possibly forcing Chinese companies to look overseas and not invest in domestic soccer.” “And as the Belt and Road becomes more and more notorious in the world, Xi’s soccer diplomacy will also hit the south wall and become further and further away from his soccer dreams.”