Soaring interest? Check. Big investments? Check. A winning national team? Give them time.
According to Nielsen, 31% of urban Chinese residents say they’re interested in soccer, and that number is growing steadily.
This year, the report states, Shanghai SIPG, a professional football club in the Chinese Super League paid $61 million for Brazilian player Hulk, breaking the league record set the year before of $51 million for Alex Teixeira. Transfer fees paid by Chinese clubs for foreign players rose 61% from 2014 to 2015.
In the past two years, Chinese companies have also bought all or part of at least 10 European soccer clubs, including Athlético Madrid, Espanyol, City Football Group, AC Milan, Internationale, and Aston Villa, according to Nielsen. Chinese companies also spend $35 million annually sponsoring European clubs.
China announced its plan to become a world soccer superpower last April. Its targets include:
— Having at least 20,000 soccer training centres and 70,000 pitches by 2020, and one pitch for every 10,000 people by 2030.
— Developing a women’s soccer team that’s world-class by 2030. China’s women’s team currently ranks 13 in the world, down from a high of 5 in 2003.
— Making sure the men’s soccer team becomes one of the best in Asia by 2030, and one of the best in the world by 2050. China’s men’s team ranks 84 in the world, down from a high of 37 in 199.
China, with an unmatched population of 1.4 billion, has succeeded in conquering sports before. Just look at
ping pong — the country took gold in all four table tennis events at the 2016 Summer Olympics.
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