China Business

China Sucks at Soccer: What Does That Tell Us?

China football

I can understand a great deal about a country by going into a few of its grocery stores and by watching five basketball games with its best players. I have a friend who is a dancer and she says she can understand a country by watching its people dance. I know basketball and I know food, but I do not know soccer, but if I did, I am sure that watching soccer games would help me better understand a country as well.

I mention this because a reader just sent me an Economist article, Why China Fails at Football, along with a note saying the following:

China is never going to get its act together in football and for the same reasons, it’s never going to get its act together in the big picture either. They play football like they do everything else. Selfishly and by rote. That works fine for factory work, but when it comes to innovation, it’s worthless.

The Economist also does not shy away from using soccer as a metaphor for China writ large:

Solving the riddle of why Chinese football is so awful becomes, then, a subversive inquiry. It involves unravelling much of what might be wrong with China and its politics. Every Chinese citizen who cares about football participates in this subversion, each with some theory—blaming the schools, the scarcity of pitches, the state’s emphasis on individual over team sport, its ruthless treatment of athletes, the one-child policy, bribery and the corrosive influence of gambling. Most lead back to the same conclusion: the root cause is the system.

It sees the soccer problem as stemming from a top-down system that is good for individual sports, but not team sports:

So whatever ails Chinese football, it is not a lack of passion from the country’s leaders. If anything, the opposite may be the problem. China’s Party-controlled, top-down approach to sport has yielded some magnificent results in individual sports, helping China win more Olympic gold medals in Beijing in 2008 than any other country. But this “Soviet model” has proven catastrophically unsuitable for assembling a team of 11 football players, much less a nation of them.

I do not know enough about either soccer or Chinese soccer to engage in any real analysis here, but it certainly does seem like a good area for discussion.

What do you think?

44 responses to “China Sucks at Soccer: What Does That Tell Us?”

  1. I came to work in China in 2010, as someone that left China at a very young age. Then I was full of optimism and saw everything through rose colored lenses. While living in the States, I was an ardent defender of China whenever someone made an off color remark about cheap Walmart goods, China’s “slave” labor, or some other nonsense. When I came to China, even when I met less than ideal situations and people, I put it off to a few bad apples; which of course, you will have in a country of over 1B.
    Until more than a year later, in Sep of 2011.
    Within a week of getting my driver’s license, going through the car registration process, then driving on the streets; I was thoroughly disgusted with all of it. The system is definitely broken, the people are broken, and just under the surface, everything is pretty much junk.
    I now question if I made the right choice to come to China, to put my family through food safety issues, and certainly, air quality issues. And of course, many, many other everyday frustrations. I am beginning to wonder if this bit of career advancement is worth it. I guess it will be as long as no major bummers happen, but it feels more and more like gambling.

  2. Thank you for the interesting article. Coming from Germany, a country where soccer is the major team sport, my opinion is that it might not be a question of politics, but a question of mentality. For a successfull soccer team it takes a combination of skills that serve the collective, where a player has to subordinate to a system chosen by the coach. And it takes the ability by some genius players, or call them leaders, to take over control and responsibility in situations when the system has to be “overruled” to play the “deadly pass” or to shoot the “dirty goal”. For players with these skills it takes courage to act this way, to put their individual genius at times over the service of the collective. Chinese soccer might not yet have found a way to develop these potential leaders and encourage the anarchic / artistic skills they need to make a difference in a game. Statistically there should be hundreds of young Messis or Zidanes on Chinese soccer fields waiting to be discovered..

  3. Orwell’s opinion as to the general value of sports is good enough for me. An additional stumbling block is the notion of finding one thing that explains all things about large situations with many moving parts. CSI’s [yes, the TV series, Grissom, in an episode said:
    “A, B, C, D or all of the above.
    Standoff with the police –
    a. Police shoot guy in the chest
    b. He runs back into his burning house inhaling smoke as he goes.
    c. The roof collapses
    d. An air conditioning unit falls on his head.
    He dies.
    What killed him?”
    Essentializing a society [particularly such a vast one] fails my own personal laugh test. Iceland and Samoa [where everyone is someone’s something] perhaps is a small enough social canvas to essentialize. Any small, insular, society with high levels of commonality between individuals across many measures. But for China?
    For China perhaps a better ‘sport’ [even the entire notion of sport gets fuzzy at the edges] would be ‘go’ or mahjong [however one would spell it]. Let’s turn it around and say that U.S. football is a good area for discussion about American society. What are the characteristics of American football? Committee meetings [huddles] interrupted by violence [the plays]…. hmm. Pretty good metaphor for U.S. international behavior since the sport became popular towards the beginning of the 20th Century. I think I’m on to something here.
    Not to mention situations [like Penn State] that regularly that bubble to the surface like dead fish shimmering fluorescently in the sunlight. Maybe, just perhaps, maybe things don’t work the way people want them to because individuals have more agency in China than foreigners perceive. Perhaps the truly skilled have better things to do [better in their own mind] than chase a ball around like 10 year olds. I know I do. I’ll grant them the same authority. [read but not ‘rigorously’ proofed for grammar or sense for that matter. It’s the internet. Everything is a rough draft.]

  4. I came to work in China in 2010, as someone that left China at a very young age. Then I was full of optimism and saw everything through rose colored lenses. While living in the States, I was an ardent defender of China whenever someone made an off color remark about cheap Walmart goods, China’s “slave” labor, or some other nonsense. When I came to China, even when I met less than ideal situations and people, I put it off to a few bad apples; which of course, you will have in a country of over 1B.
    Until more than a year later, in Sep of 2011.
    Within a week of getting my driver’s license, going through the car registration process, then driving on the streets; I was thoroughly disgusted with all of it. The system is definitely broken, the people are broken, and just under the surface, everything is pretty much junk.
    I now question if I made the right choice to come to China, to put my family through food safety issues, and certainly, air quality issues. And of course, many, many other everyday frustrations. I am beginning to wonder if this bit of career advancement is worth it. I guess it will be as long as no major bummers happen, but it feels more and more like gambling.

  5. Reminds me of “The Morals Basis of a Backward Society” by Edward Banfield. Where in some cultures share a great deal of trust for the member of their own families, but are very suspicious of people outside the walls of their home. Thus making it hard to build companies that were bigger than a family unit. But in societies where there are high levels of trust with people outside someones family unit, you will find tight knit industrial firms and bigger community groups.
    I wonder if this has any correlation to that. With a group, pertaining to sports, someone in China may only trust themselves, thus excelling in them. Along with other factors of course. Thus maybe this is why there are a lot more family businesses then big ones, and with the big ones there are all kinds of problems (at least in my experiences).
    Could it be that no one on the team trusts anyone else, and, can’t work together? Or someone want’s to reap all the benefits of the team without the effort?
    I personally think so. Although it may not be the only factor, it probably is at least one.

  6. Have you watched 5 Chinese basketball games? It would be interesting to know whether you see the same outcome in basketball that others see in soccer.

  7. As a matter of fact, the football in my country, Hungary used to have its brightest period (the national team being unbeaten for more than 4 years, had famous wins against Brasil, England – 3:6 in Wembley – etc, played a World Cup final, Puskas is considered one of the best ever since and so on), under the very darkest period of communism, in the early 1950s. Therefore I don’t think football success necessarily has a lot to do with the system.

  8. Thank you for the interesting article. Coming from Germany, a country where soccer is the major team sport, my opinion is that it might not be a question of politics, but a question of mentality. For a successfull soccer team it takes a combination of skills that serve the collective, where a player has to subordinate to a system chosen by the coach. And it takes the ability by some genius players, or call them leaders, to take over control and responsibility in situations when the system has to be “overruled” to play the “deadly pass” or to shoot the “dirty goal”. For players with these skills it takes courage to act this way, to put their individual genius at times over the service of the collective. Chinese soccer might not yet have found a way to develop these potential leaders and encourage the anarchic / artistic skills they need to make a difference in a game. Statistically there should be hundreds of young Messis or Zidanes on Chinese soccer fields waiting to be discovered..

  9. Orwell’s opinion as to the general value of sports is good enough for me. An additional stumbling block is the notion of finding one thing that explains all things about large situations with many moving parts. CSI’s [yes, the TV series, Grissom, in an episode said:
    “A, B, C, D or all of the above.
    Standoff with the police –
    a. Police shoot guy in the chest
    b. He runs back into his burning house inhaling smoke as he goes.
    c. The roof collapses
    d. An air conditioning unit falls on his head.
    He dies.
    What killed him?”
    Essentializing a society [particularly such a vast one] fails my own personal laugh test. Iceland and Samoa [where everyone is someone’s something] perhaps is a small enough social canvas to essentialize. Any small, insular, society with high levels of commonality between individuals across many measures. But for China?
    For China perhaps a better ‘sport’ [even the entire notion of sport gets fuzzy at the edges] would be ‘go’ or mahjong [however one would spell it]. Let’s turn it around and say that U.S. football is a good area for discussion about American society. What are the characteristics of American football? Committee meetings [huddles] interrupted by violence [the plays]…. hmm. Pretty good metaphor for U.S. international behavior since the sport became popular towards the beginning of the 20th Century. I think I’m on to something here.
    Not to mention situations [like Penn State] that regularly that bubble to the surface like dead fish shimmering fluorescently in the sunlight. Maybe, just perhaps, maybe things don’t work the way people want them to because individuals have more agency in China than foreigners perceive. Perhaps the truly skilled have better things to do [better in their own mind] than chase a ball around like 10 year olds. I know I do. I’ll grant them the same authority. [read but not ‘rigorously’ proofed for grammar or sense for that matter. It’s the internet. Everything is a rough draft.]

  10. Reminds me of “The Morals Basis of a Backward Society” by Edward Banfield. Where in some cultures share a great deal of trust for the member of their own families, but are very suspicious of people outside the walls of their home. Thus making it hard to build companies that were bigger than a family unit. But in societies where there are high levels of trust with people outside someones family unit, you will find tight knit industrial firms and bigger community groups.
    I wonder if this has any correlation to that. With a group, pertaining to sports, someone in China may only trust themselves, thus excelling in them. Along with other factors of course. Thus maybe this is why there are a lot more family businesses then big ones, and with the big ones there are all kinds of problems (at least in my experiences).
    Could it be that no one on the team trusts anyone else, and, can’t work together? Or someone want’s to reap all the benefits of the team without the effort?
    I personally think so. Although it may not be the only factor, it probably is at least one.

  11. Chinese women football teams perform quite well. What does that tell us (except that the author of the Economist article has a rather male-dominated look on the world)?
    Are Chinese women better team-players than Chinese male? As an employer I would say: Probably yes.
    I do not know football, but I understand running. Will (on the very long run) Kenya be the most advanced country of the world? May be.

  12. It is amazing to me how many people seem to agree with your thesis that one can discern a country by the way they play its sports when I have never seen any link at all.

  13. Have you watched 5 Chinese basketball games? It would be interesting to know whether you see the same outcome in basketball that others see in soccer.

  14. I have a different view.
    I think China’s weak performance in team sports when compared to the West is a result of culture. I look to Hofstede’s cultural study where he finds China with a highly collectivist society and America with a highly individualized culture.
    I think a collectivist society excels at producing athletes for individual sports, an odd conclusion. The reason, I hypothesize, is that society provides outstanding support for individual athletes, and the whole team in individual sports supports the success of the individual. Western athletes more frequently face jealousy and infighting that undermines individual performance.
    The same phenomenon works in reverse in team sports. There is a reluctance among team members to do anything that reflects poorly on other team members, so outstanding individual performance is discouraged, even ostracized. There would not be a Michael Jordan on a Chinese basketball team.
    I think this same phenomenon carries over into business. As a result team approaches to management fail in Asia, where dictatorial approaches often succeed.
    I have no evidence for this, it is just a theory.

  15. it’s not about individual sports, think about tennis, golf, car racing… China sucks at all the professional sports. The only thing the sports system cares about is the medals in Olympic, to get the most from the sports budget you need to invest in some sports with less competition. and also ,Chinese really don’t like sports that much, either participating or watching, everyone laugh at the soccer team, but how many people actually play soccer in China? I have trouble finding an open pitch in Beijing , which is one of the most soccer crazy city in China.

  16. it took a long LONG time for the U.S. to become even respectable in soccer. it’s tough to compete with countries that have a long tradition in a sport. it reminds me of Canada and hockey. There’s plenty of hockey played in the U.S. but still so many of the great players come from Canada. Personally I don’t think there’s much to be learned by making analogies to the rest of the culture, economy etc. It’s going to be a long time before other countries can rival China in ping pong. Does that mean that we were paddled too much as children or that we are afraid of tables or white balls? c’mon.

  17. China Soccer, as those comments above-mentioned, is a shame to Chinese. I started playing soccer game at 18 when I went to colleague. Yes, it’s too late, but for a rural child in China at that time, it’s very common. But I like this game very much and there are many people like me born in the 1970s who insist playing soccer game every week. We are almost losing any interest on China soccer. The famous games and super players we usually talk are from Europe, and every weekend, what we watch on TV is European Football. That’s right, China Soccer may not be improved without system reform. Soccer should be managed according to inner law of soccer, China is no exception.

  18. As a matter of fact, the football in my country, Hungary used to have its brightest period (the national team being unbeaten for more than 4 years, had famous wins against Brasil, England – 3:6 in Wembley – etc, played a World Cup final, Puskas is considered one of the best ever since and so on), under the very darkest period of communism, in the early 1950s. Therefore I don’t think football success necessarily has a lot to do with the system.

  19. Chinese women football teams perform quite well. What does that tell us (except that the author of the Economist article has a rather male-dominated look on the world)?
    Are Chinese women better team-players than Chinese male? As an employer I would say: Probably yes.
    I do not know football, but I understand running. Will (on the very long run) Kenya be the most advanced country of the world? May be.

  20. It is amazing to me how many people seem to agree with your thesis that one can discern a country by the way they play its sports when I have never seen any link at all.

  21. I agree with Adam above. India – another humongous country – absolutely sucks across the board, and their political system is completely different from China’s.
    A big part – a really big part – of European soccer success is the children of immigrants, which China just doesn’t have. France?? Come on… in a few decades, China will be similarly equipped I reckon.
    Also, the best basketball teams outside of the Americas are those of the former eastern block countries. Apart from Spain, western Europe sucks, despite having established leagues and outstanding facilities. Basketball is every bit as much a team sport as soccer.

  22. I have a different view.
    I think China’s weak performance in team sports when compared to the West is a result of culture. I look to Hofstede’s cultural study where he finds China with a highly collectivist society and America with a highly individualized culture.
    I think a collectivist society excels at producing athletes for individual sports, an odd conclusion. The reason, I hypothesize, is that society provides outstanding support for individual athletes, and the whole team in individual sports supports the success of the individual. Western athletes more frequently face jealousy and infighting that undermines individual performance.
    The same phenomenon works in reverse in team sports. There is a reluctance among team members to do anything that reflects poorly on other team members, so outstanding individual performance is discouraged, even ostracized. There would not be a Michael Jordan on a Chinese basketball team.
    I think this same phenomenon carries over into business. As a result team approaches to management fail in Asia, where dictatorial approaches often succeed.
    I have no evidence for this, it is just a theory.

  23. it took a long LONG time for the U.S. to become even respectable in soccer. it’s tough to compete with countries that have a long tradition in a sport. it reminds me of Canada and hockey. There’s plenty of hockey played in the U.S. but still so many of the great players come from Canada. Personally I don’t think there’s much to be learned by making analogies to the rest of the culture, economy etc. It’s going to be a long time before other countries can rival China in ping pong. Does that mean that we were paddled too much as children or that we are afraid of tables or white balls? c’mon.

  24. This is funny, because as a Brazilian who lived in China I always thought the opposite: That football was a wonderful example of why China will actually succeed. It turns out that the only other Brazilian I knew in Shenyang (Liaoning province) was a professional football player hired by the local team. He told me that while the Chinese players lacked creativity and passion, there’s something that they have that is very hard for Brazilians to get: DISCIPLINE.
    So, for me, that’s the metaphor… Yes, China might suck at something, but they have the capability to to apply discipline and focus on areas that westerners just take for granted, and eventually become competent on that field.
    Besides, Brazil has the best football, but we are not much of an example when it comes to its citizens well-being or the seriousness of its political leaders, are we?

  25. I agree with Adam above. India – another humongous country – absolutely sucks across the board, and their political system is completely different from China’s.
    A big part – a really big part – of European soccer success is the children of immigrants, which China just doesn’t have. France?? Come on… in a few decades, China will be similarly equipped I reckon.
    Also, the best basketball teams outside of the Americas are those of the former eastern block countries. Apart from Spain, western Europe sucks, despite having established leagues and outstanding facilities. Basketball is every bit as much a team sport as soccer.

  26. This is funny, because as a Brazilian who lived in China I always thought the opposite: That football was a wonderful example of why China will actually succeed. It turns out that the only other Brazilian I knew in Shenyang (Liaoning province) was a professional football player hired by the local team. He told me that while the Chinese players lacked creativity and passion, there’s something that they have that is very hard for Brazilians to get: DISCIPLINE.
    So, for me, that’s the metaphor… Yes, China might suck at something, but they have the capability to to apply discipline and focus on areas that westerners just take for granted, and eventually become competent on that field.
    Besides, Brazil has the best football, but we are not much of an example when it comes to its citizens well-being or the seriousness of its political leaders, are we?

  27. The comparison with football is very arbitrary. Has anyone ever wondered why the Chinese do NOT suck at volleyball, a sport where team work is actually far more important than football?
    Or why China’s women’s football team is actually quite successful too??

  28. James G.: “India – another humongous country – absolutely sucks across the board, and their political system is completely different from China’s”
    Really? Because so long as the topic is sport, India is one of the traditional powerhouses of cricket and field hockey. What does the Indian passion for a game whose matches can last five days tell you? That they have oodles of patience? That they’re great at long-term, strategic thinking?
    I’m glad Mi Fu raised the women’s football team. It’s a game I like to play with my students:
    “What do you think of the Chinese football team?”
    “Rubbish!”
    “Oh, no, sorry, I meant the women’s team.”
    “Oh, well, they’re alright. Quite good, actually.”
    We could have hours of fun discussing the obvious gender bias. Or we could wonder what this shows us about the differences between Chinese men and women. I don’t know that Chinese women are better team players than Chinese men. My male students are just as likely to pull together and work as a team. Weak students, whether they’re male or female, are just as likely to handbag off stronger students. But in my experience, female students are a lot less likely than their male peers to slack off and then suddenly whinge and moan when they discover that no, in fact, their degree is not going to be handed to them on a silver platter just because their parents forked over collossal sums of money in tuition fees and other expenses. The hardest working students are more likely to be female than male.
    Can we apply this to team sports? Are China’s sportswomen more likely to put in the work needed to succeed than China’s sportsmen? If so, how do we explain China’s dominance of sports like table tennis and badminton (both of which are played in both individual and team forms)?
    I’m glad Adam raised the experience of Hungarian football. Romanian rugby – strong under Ceaucescu, weak post-1989 – seems to bear that out. It’s not the system.
    I think LH is on the right track. It’s the local sporting tradtions. Football dominates Europe and Latin America, and those continents host the traditionally strongest football teams. Cricket dominates South Asia, and India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka are cricket teams to be feared. In New Zealand and white South Africa, it’s rugby union, in Queensland and New South Wales it’s rugby union and rugby league, and New Zealand, South Africa and Australia are traditionally the three strongest rugby nations – and only once has the rugby world cup been won by a nation other than Australia, New Zealand or South Africa. And, of course, there’s LH’s Canada and ice hockey. China dominates table tennis and badminton. And just as on any given winter Saturday morning in any given town in New Zealand you will see primary school kids running around barefoot chasing a rugby ball, in China when primary schools finish classes for the day, you’ll see hundreds of primary school kids running for the table tennis tables. In India you’ll see people playing improvised games of cricket in the street, in China you see people playing improvised badminton in any random flat space.
    But I really don’t see what the state of a country’s national sports teams or the sports that dominate a country tell us about a country’s culture or society. It’s often said that football is a gentlemen’s game played by hooligans, while rugby is a hooligans’ game played by gentlemen. Indeed, one does not see the hooliganism football attracts associated with rugby. What does football’s dominance of Europe tell us about Europeans? That they’re all hooligans? I don’t think so. What does rugby tell us about New Zealand? That we only succeed at home when our opponents are French? The number of successful expat Kiwis suggests otherwise. Does Canada’s love of ice hockey show us that Canadians are horrible, violent people? I’ve never met a violent Canadian, and only a very few of the Canadians I’ve met I would describe as horrible. I reject SteveLaudig’s assumption about small island nations like Iceland and Samoa, but he’s right to warn of the dangers of trying to essentialise a society. The state of Chinese men’s football is too small and simple to tell us much of anything about China as a whole.

  29. The comparison with football is very arbitrary. Has anyone ever wondered why the Chinese do NOT suck at volleyball, a sport where team work is actually far more important than football?
    Or why China’s women’s football team is actually quite successful too??

  30. James G.: “India – another humongous country – absolutely sucks across the board, and their political system is completely different from China’s”
    Really? Because so long as the topic is sport, India is one of the traditional powerhouses of cricket and field hockey. What does the Indian passion for a game whose matches can last five days tell you? That they have oodles of patience? That they’re great at long-term, strategic thinking?
    I’m glad Mi Fu raised the women’s football team. It’s a game I like to play with my students:
    “What do you think of the Chinese football team?”
    “Rubbish!”
    “Oh, no, sorry, I meant the women’s team.”
    “Oh, well, they’re alright. Quite good, actually.”
    We could have hours of fun discussing the obvious gender bias. Or we could wonder what this shows us about the differences between Chinese men and women. I don’t know that Chinese women are better team players than Chinese men. My male students are just as likely to pull together and work as a team. Weak students, whether they’re male or female, are just as likely to handbag off stronger students. But in my experience, female students are a lot less likely than their male peers to slack off and then suddenly whinge and moan when they discover that no, in fact, their degree is not going to be handed to them on a silver platter just because their parents forked over collossal sums of money in tuition fees and other expenses. The hardest working students are more likely to be female than male.
    Can we apply this to team sports? Are China’s sportswomen more likely to put in the work needed to succeed than China’s sportsmen? If so, how do we explain China’s dominance of sports like table tennis and badminton (both of which are played in both individual and team forms)?
    I’m glad Adam raised the experience of Hungarian football. Romanian rugby – strong under Ceaucescu, weak post-1989 – seems to bear that out. It’s not the system.
    I think LH is on the right track. It’s the local sporting tradtions. Football dominates Europe and Latin America, and those continents host the traditionally strongest football teams. Cricket dominates South Asia, and India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka are cricket teams to be feared. In New Zealand and white South Africa, it’s rugby union, in Queensland and New South Wales it’s rugby union and rugby league, and New Zealand, South Africa and Australia are traditionally the three strongest rugby nations – and only once has the rugby world cup been won by a nation other than Australia, New Zealand or South Africa. And, of course, there’s LH’s Canada and ice hockey. China dominates table tennis and badminton. And just as on any given winter Saturday morning in any given town in New Zealand you will see primary school kids running around barefoot chasing a rugby ball, in China when primary schools finish classes for the day, you’ll see hundreds of primary school kids running for the table tennis tables. In India you’ll see people playing improvised games of cricket in the street, in China you see people playing improvised badminton in any random flat space.
    But I really don’t see what the state of a country’s national sports teams or the sports that dominate a country tell us about a country’s culture or society. It’s often said that football is a gentlemen’s game played by hooligans, while rugby is a hooligans’ game played by gentlemen. Indeed, one does not see the hooliganism football attracts associated with rugby. What does football’s dominance of Europe tell us about Europeans? That they’re all hooligans? I don’t think so. What does rugby tell us about New Zealand? That we only succeed at home when our opponents are French? The number of successful expat Kiwis suggests otherwise. Does Canada’s love of ice hockey show us that Canadians are horrible, violent people? I’ve never met a violent Canadian, and only a very few of the Canadians I’ve met I would describe as horrible. I reject SteveLaudig’s assumption about small island nations like Iceland and Samoa, but he’s right to warn of the dangers of trying to essentialise a society. The state of Chinese men’s football is too small and simple to tell us much of anything about China as a whole.

  31. I think everyone is overthinking this, my former colleagues at The Economist included. I would have hoped they would have looked for a market-driven answer. National prowess at any sport is usually a reflection of the resources devoted to it, and thus which sports get the best athletes, coaches and facilities. China’s sporting development resources have gone to those sports that can win the country Olympic medals in number. That means sports with multiple events and in which there is the least global competition. Football suffers on both measures. Now China wants to stage a FIFA World Cup (it is considering bidding for 2026), expect the country’s sporting development priorities to change, i.e. its football will get better. The same dynamic works in the U.S., except the priorities are set by TV, not the Party. U.S. soccer falls below the comparative standard of its baseball, basketball and football (NFL-variety), because that is where the money is, and thus, Willie Sutton-like, that is where the best American athletes head.

  32. I think everyone is overthinking this, my former colleagues at The Economist included. I would have hoped they would have looked for a market-driven answer. National prowess at any sport is usually a reflection of the resources devoted to it, and thus which sports get the best athletes, coaches and facilities. China’s sporting development resources have gone to those sports that can win the country Olympic medals in number. That means sports with multiple events and in which there is the least global competition. Football suffers on both measures. Now China wants to stage a FIFA World Cup (it is considering bidding for 2026), expect the country’s sporting development priorities to change, i.e. its football will get better. The same dynamic works in the U.S., except the priorities are set by TV, not the Party. U.S. soccer falls below the comparative standard of its baseball, basketball and football (NFL-variety), because that is where the money is, and thus, Willie Sutton-like, that is where the best American athletes head.

  33. It’s a wrong comparison. Soviet football (socker) and hockey teams at the time were always the top 1 or 2 in the world. Soviet model, if anything is to improve the quality of a team work.
    The porblem is that China is not anymore a socialist country. It’s the most capitalist country I have been to. Capitalism with an authoritarian rule (elite government), yet the government has a legitimate approval of majority.
    In football, they just don’t know how to innovate, it’s true.

  34. It’s a wrong comparison. Soviet football (socker) and hockey teams at the time were always the top 1 or 2 in the world. Soviet model, if anything is to improve the quality of a team work.
    The porblem is that China is not anymore a socialist country. It’s the most capitalist country I have been to. Capitalism with an authoritarian rule (elite government), yet the government has a legitimate approval of majority.
    In football, they just don’t know how to innovate, it’s true.

  35. it’s not about individual sports, think about tennis, golf, car racing… China sucks at all the professional sports. The only thing the sports system cares about is the medals in Olympic, to get the most from the sports budget you need to invest in some sports with less competition. and also ,Chinese really don’t like sports that much, either participating or watching, everyone laugh at the soccer team, but how many people actually play soccer in China? I have trouble finding an open pitch in Beijing , which is one of the most soccer crazy city in China.

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