Entrepreneur hopes mainland grass-roots training of 2,000 children will develop future soccer stars

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 29 November, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 29 November, 2009, 12:00am

Though China does not officially recognise amateur soccer and prefers to rely on elite training camps to develop its sports stars, there are some green shoots growing on the barren amateur pitches where talent is traditionally grown.

The English Premier League and other European clubs and associations are holding more ad-hoc training clinics and Fifa has also run its GOAL project to promote the amateur game.

Rowan Simons' China Club Football, is an independent company leading the full-time effort to build amateur football at the grass roots. 'Over the past eight years, we have been taking international experience and best practice and trying to adapt it to fit the realities of China.

'We are operating an integrated amateur football network model based around 'Learn, Play, Live' principles,' Simons (pictured) says.

'We have over 2,000 kids taking part in training held at more than 20 places around Beijing with internationally trained coaches. This autumn we launched programmes in Tianjin and we will keep growing.'

Simons' company also runs successful five-a-side leagues involving more than 100 Chinese and expatriate teams.

More than 120 sponsors have backed his efforts and he and his partners have helped launch 'Football For Life', which aims to bring soccer into the lives of children living in migrant-worker communities.

China Club Football is also taking football to the influential, affluent middle classes with similar training programmes.

The CFA has said it wants to develop grass-roots soccer and government ministers were dispatched on fact-finding missions to Europe in the summer.

According to official figures, in 1995 the mainland had 650,000 registered youth players. That number dropped to 13,524 last year. Figures from Fifa's 2006 'Big Count' claimed China had 708,754 amateur and youth players from a population of 1.3 billion.

Yet statistics are rarely trusted in a country where elitist, state-run training programmes are run in 40 cities across the country, further blurring the line between the professionalism and amateurism.

Facilities are another area of concern. A once popular 11-a-side Beijing amateur league has been forced to halve its numbers this season because playing fields have been swallowed by the capital's rapid development.