President Xi Jinping’s comments on Chinese soccer during his Southeast Asian trip were met with rampant mocking from online users who have grown tired of being disappointed by the continuing failures of the national team.
“I hope both of our national teams will make it to the World Cup finals in the near future,” Chinese President Xi said in an interview in Indonesia according to Xinhua. He had been asked to predict the performances of Chinese and Indonesian soccer teams in the qualification phase of the Asian Cup next month.
“Soccer’s charm comes from its unpredictability. And it is all about cooperation … one reason why I like it so much,” Xi said about the sport.
Although the president, long known for his passion for the sport, said he had high hopes for Chinese soccer, countless sports fans reacted disparagingly online, expressing their pessimism for their national team.
“This is truly only a dream,” one Sina Weibo microblog user said. “And this will be the last Chinese dream to come true,” echoed another blogger.
“Compared to this, I think a ‘great revival of the Chinese nation’ is more realistic,” an internet user added, sarcastically referring to Xi’s trademark slogan.
Others suggested the government should allow dual nationality for national soccer team players, claiming the only hope lay in foreign aid.
In the past Xi has made a number of public comments related to Chinese soccer to express his support of the sport believed to have originated from China.
On a visit to Mexico, Xi did not mention that he was a fan of the sport, yet lamented the sorry state of Chinese soccer. “Despite huge effort, the Chinese soccer team has only made it to the World Cup finals once,” he said. The team conceded a total of eight goals in their early elimination from the 2002 World Cup.
In 2011, Xi shared three of his expectations of Chinese soccer with a South Korean politician. “The Chinese national team will enter the World Cup finals. China will host the World Cup. And to win the World Cup championship,” he said.
Last year when he was vice-president, Xi disappeared in public for two weeks and sparked various rumours of his whereabouts. A media source told the South China Morning Post that Xi had strained a muscle during a soccer match with his staff in Beijing.
While soccer is the most watched sport in China, its national team has disappointed its tens of millions of fans across the nation. China’s men’s soccer currently ranks 99th in the world according to FIFA, the international governing body of the sport.
Chinese soccer has long been plagued by a series of corruption and match-fixing scandals. Critics also say it has suffered from a lack of youthful prospects, as a popular joke runs: “In a country with a population of 1.3 billion people, we can’t even find 11 decent soccer players.”
When Xi became president in November last year, hopes were reignited among the huge number of soccer fans in the country as many hoped that a soccer-loving leader could help lift the sport out of its doldrums.
But their hopes were dashed completely after China’s world ranking in March dropped to 109th, their lowest in soccer history, and a heartbreaking 1-5 loss against Thailand – which had been ranked 47 places lower than China in the previous month. The latter incident prompted China to fire its head coach Jose Antonio Camacho, paying him compensation of 50 million yuan (HK$63 million) for ending his contract early.
“There is still a long way ahead for Chinese soccer. I am afraid Xi’s generation won’t be able to witness [its future success],” a blogger commented.