China’s soccer-mad President Xi Jinping’s passion for ‘the beautiful game’ sparked while a child
President Xi Jinping, who ends his state visit to Britain on Friday with a visit to English Premier League club Manchester City, is known to be a passionate soccer fan.
Xi’s long-term dream is for China’s national team to win the World Cup.
His love of “the beautiful game” may have developed while at middle school as a result of his late father, communist revolutionary Xi Zhongxun, who is also reported to have enjoyed watching matches.
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Xi Jinping, who was born in 1953, played football while at school in the 1950s and 60s and played alongside with many second-generation communist revolutionaries, including the grandson of Marshal Zhu De , who was vice-chairman of China.
The president’s fondness for soccer was also influenced by China’s previous political leaders, many of whom, including Deng Xiaoping, were football fanatics.
One of Deng’s speeches, in which he said, “China’s football education should start with children”, has been mentioned by Xi in his own speeches.
In the 1980s, Xi played less soccer because of his increasing workload.
State media has reported that even when he was sent to Zhengding county, in Hebei province as deputy party secretary and later promoted to party secretary, between 1982 and 1985, Xi often returned to Beijing at weekends to watch matches.
Xi was reportedly angry about the defeat. His friend later recalled in an interview, “Xi left the stadium angry and upset”.
Like many soccer fans, Xi has often stayed up late to watch matches played abroad that have been shown on television, his wife, Peng Liyuan, told state media.
Xi’s passion for the sport has also fired his determination to rid the sport in China of widespread corruption – involving match-fixing and one referee taking bribes to influence results – and improve its international ranking.
The team are currently ranked 81 in the world, with their highest ranking of 37 achieved in 1998; last year they were ranked 97th in the world.
In the early 2000s, when he worked as governor and party secretary in Zhejiang province, Xi started to work on a comprehensive plan for reforming the organisation of the sport in China, which was officially released and passed in February 2015.
While he was still vice-president in 2011 he expressed three wishes for the future – for China to qualify, host and win a World Cup.
The team, which has twice won the Asian Cup, has already qualified once before for the World Cup, in 2002 hosted jointly by Japan and South Korea. But the team finished bottom of Group C, losing all three of their matches and failed to score a goal.
Xi’s love of soccer – and his own skills at the game – came to international attention in 2008 after a photograph was shown of him inspecting preparations for the soccer tournament at the Beijing Olympics.
TIMELINE: Xi’s soccer highlights while abroad
Vice-president Xi is presented with the no 10 shirt of German club side Bayer Leverkusen, with his name printed on the back, during a trip to the country. He says he is determined to improve China’s soccer ranking, but admits that it will take a very long time.
In February he accepts an autographed LA Galaxy shirt from England footballer David Beckham during a visit to the US. the same month Xi is photographed kicking a football while visiting Croke Park stadium in Dublin.
The picture was seen on the shelf of his office during the broadcast of his 2014 Chinese New Year address.
British Prime Minister David Cameron presents Xi with an England shirt, signed by all the players, while on a visit to China in December.
On a trip to Germany in March Xi and his wife visit China’s youth footballers who are training with the youth team of Bundesliga side Wolfsburg.
In the same month he meets retired Holland goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar during a trip to the Netherlands.
In July, while on a state visit to Brazil, he declines the host nation’s invitation to attend the World Cup final.
Later that month, while in Argentina, Vice-President Amado Boudou presents Xi with a No 10 Argentina shirt with his name printed on the back – in place of the team’s star player, Lionel Messi.
In March Britain’s Prince William visits Beijing, and Xi expresses his desire to have more Chinese players playing in the English Premier League in future; Sun Jihai, was part of Manchester City’s squad from 2002-08.