Home > Misc. junk > Sure, a strike would do irreparable damage to MLS, but, hey, at least this isn’t the Chinese Super League

Sure, a strike would do irreparable damage to MLS, but, hey, at least this isn’t the Chinese Super League

Alright, we’re all well aware by now of the upcoming negotiations over the collective bargaining agreement. Most people seem to come down on the side of the players and everyone seems to think that if a strike happens it will be disastrous for the league (me included). But, just for a breath of fresh air, I thought I’d turn the collective heads of US soccer fans eastward, towards China, where professional soccer is in an equally if not far more precarious situation.

Badge of the Chinese football association

Badge of the Chinese Football Association

In many ways, the situation in China is the opposite than in the US. The sport does not suffer from apathy among the general population. Soccer is huge in China and has millions of fans who predominantly support teams in the Premiership or Serie A. Go to any available field in the afternoon–on any day of the week–and it will be filled to bursting with pick-up games.

Yet, still, this country of 1.3 billion people fails to produce develop world-class talent and hasn’t qualified for the World Cup since 2002. It’s top flight league, the Chinese Super League, struggles to draw crowds and develop a fan base.

So what gives?

For a country so big, with such an immense sporting infrastructure, the causes are numerous. Players lack structure, facilities, and top-class coaching. The developmental system for finding and training young players is inadequate at best (China excels in training athletes for individual sports but not team sports, as the Beijing medal count can attest). Chinese families also place a far higher value on academics than sport, so there is a great deal of pressure on children in China to excel at their studies while eschewing everything else.

But the biggest problem in China has nothing to do with the quality of the coaching, players, or youth development system. It has to due with corruption. Massive, systemic corruption. From march-fixing to gambling to pay-offs for relegation and promotion, the Chinese Football association has been a playground for corrupt politicians and businessman since it was founded in 2004. Just do a google news search with the words “China football corruption” and you should find about a week’s worth of reading material on the subject.

The situation is so bad that Chinese fans have given up on the sport. The national team is a national joke. A telling series of quotes from recent Irish times article helps explain the fans attitude better than I possibly could:

Ordinary fans are frustrated with the state of the sport in China. “I used to watch Chinese soccer games. Even when I was 22 I went to the stadium with my father to watch a soccer game. But the games were boring and the teams didn’t play well,” says Xiaoxiao (26) from Shandong province, who prefers Italian football these days.

“I’m a little bit pessimistic about the outlook for Chinese soccer. It has many bureaucratic problems in its system. If it wants to become world class, Chinese soccer needs fundamental changes,” he says.

Meng Xiajie (29), a teacher from Beijing, is a major Manchester United supporter. “A long time ago I used to watch Chinese soccer games, like the national team or Beijing Guoan. But I have to say I was let down. They have so many problems. The players don’t play like true professionals, you have the ‘black whistles’, game-fixing, scandals, problems with the system . . . I feel sometimes Chinese soccer is hopeless. But still in my heart I hope one day we will have great Chinese players,” says Meng.

Now even President Hu Jintao is getting involved. Last week, China announced the arrests of over 20 sport officials on charges of corruption, including the president and two coaches of the Chengdu Blades*, a team owned by England’s Sheffield United. If this latest batch of arrests doesn’t help end the corruption (and 20 arrests are honestly not likely to make much of a difference), then Chinese soccer may soon become completely irrelevant:

Some people, such as Nan Yong, vice-president of the Chinese Football Association, insist the current clean-up is the last chance to save the game. He said: “If match fixing and gambling remain rampant as now, Chinese soccer will be dead. We are ready to pay a huge price to weed it out once and for all.” (The Guardian)

So, MLS fans, as the CBA negotiations near, and you begin to anxiously fear for the future of the league, take solace in the fact that, even if a strike occurs, our situation still isn’t as bad as China’s. That’s got to mean something, right?

*A self-indulgent side note: I lived in Chengdu for three years and went to a few Blades games. Okay team, fantastic fans. For their sake I am really sorry to hear about the troubles at the club.

**Self-indulgent side note #2: My kind-sorta-semi-pro team once played the Blades’ youth team. I was hugely disappointed by the quality of play. The biggest difference between their team and ours was the size of our bellies and the amount of alcohol we had drunk the night before (we lost 4-1 with a little help from the ref). An MLS youth team would have demolished these kids.

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