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First look at China’s Lionel Messi soccer theme park

Tribute to leading Argentine player set to open in Nanjing in 2020

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 12 October, 2017, 10:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 12 October, 2017, 11:20pm

The developers of what they claim will be the world’s biggest soccer-themed park have given a glimpse of the planned attraction based in eastern China around legendary player Lionel Messi.

The 170 million (US$200 million) project – called the Messi Experience Park – is being developed by Spanish firm Mediapro Exhibitions and Messi’s management, and is expected to open in 2020.

Mediapro president Jaume Roures told Spanish sports news website AS that the project, which was unveiled in June, would serve as a “huge tribute to football”.

The latest announcement comes in the same week that Messi secured Argentina’s place in the World Cup, scoring three goals against Ecuador on the last day of South American qualifying. The dramatic hat-trick saved the Albiceleste from missing out on qualification for the first time since 1970.

The developers said the park aimed to “combine Chinese tradition with modern-day design” to promote a “cross-cultural game which knows no frontiers”.

“Football in China is growing exponentially with the support of the authorities and Nanjing is the football capital of the country,” the International Business Times quoted Mediapro Exhibitions head David Xirau as saying.

Nanjing authorities are planning to build a high-speed rail link between the city and Shanghai, in addition to a new underground metro line connecting the park to the city centre.

Tickets are expected to cost around 270 yuan (US$41), slightly less than entry to Shanghai Disneyland.

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The park will have various soccer-themed immersive exhibitions and live performances featuring holographs and robotics.

It will chart the 30-year-old player’s journey from his hometown of Rosario in Argentina to the top ranks of international soccer.

About 80 per cent of the visitors are expected to be Chinese with the rest coming from overseas.

Soccer has enjoyed huge popularity in China in recent years, with tens of millions of dollars spent to lure top international players to Chinese teams.

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China also unveiled plans last year to become a “first-class soccer superpower” by 2050, with 50 million Chinese of all ages playing the sport by 2020.

Chinese President Xi Jinping, a fan of the sport, has said China should build 20,000 new soccer training centres and 70,000 new pitches by 2020.

But China has struggled to make an impact in the sport and its men’s team is 62 in the Fifa world rankings.