Former England captain David Beckham is being lined up to promote Chinese football, state media said on Friday, but fans say rebuilding the sport’s shattered image may be too big a challenge even for him.
Officials have confirmed the superstar will make a highly anticipated tour of China “in which he will be appointed the CSL’s (Chinese Super League’s) ambassador”, the state-run China Daily said.
The Chinese Football Association is not expected to confirm the trip until next week, but sports fans took to internet message boards in droves to criticise the decision.
Many said installing Beckham – currently with French club Paris Saint-Germain – as an “international ambassador” will do little to address the core problems of the competition, which is battling to overcome match-fixing and bribery scandals.
“This is a superficial change by the CFA. Even if Beckham comes, what exactly is he going to do?” said one poster on Sina Weibo, China’s version of Twitter.
“Chinese football will become even more rotten. Its prospects are bleak.”
Another addressed the player himself: “Want to discredit yourself, or to launder money? You have come to the right place. You could spend half a lifetime disgracing yourself, handsome guy.”
A CSL source told the official Xinhua news agency on Thursday it was “almost certain” the 37-year-old would take up the new role.
An official at IMG, which is described in Chinese media as a CSL “marketing partner”, was quoted in the China Daily on Friday saying: “Yes, we are indeed organising his visit to China as the ambassador.”
None of the media reports signalled how much Beckham, who is known as “little Becks” in China, would be paid in the position.
Football in the country is reeling after years of corruption involving officials, referees and players.
A three-year investigation into match-fixing led to 33 people being banned for life and Didier Drogba’s former club Shanghai Shenhua being stripped of the 2003 league title earlier this week.
The arrival of the Ivory Coast striker and Nicolas Anelka, his former team-mate at English Premier League side Chelsea, last year signalled to some commentators that Chinese football had turned a corner.
But both players have since left Shenhua, with Drogba going to Turkish league leaders Galatasaray in disputed circumstances and Anelka signing for Juventus on loan.