China to require every kid to play soccer

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China president Xi Jinping is so determined to turn his nation into a soccer stronghold that he’s requiring all children to play the game, according to The Economist.

The President, a massive soccer fan, was humiliated last June when his country, having failed to qualify for the World Cup and lost friendly matches to Uzbekistan and Holland earlier in the month, lost 5-1 to a Thai youth team.

The loss was so debilitating that on November 27th the following was announced:

“[S]occer would become a compulsory part of the national curriculum at schools. Wang Dengfeng, an education official, said improving the standard of football in China must “start with children”. By 2017 some 20,000 schools are to receive new football pitches and training facilities, with the aim of creating 100,000 new players. In 2016 football will become an option in the national university-entrance exam. This could help overcome resistance among parents to their children being distracted from their academic studies by ball-kicking.”

Perhaps as interesting as the decision to mobilize and entire nation behind a game is the fact that one of the major influencers is Tom Byer, an American who serves as a soccer consultant in Beijing, who claims he  is “very optimistic that the Chinese government is headed in the right direction.”

But while requiring every child in a nation of 1.35 billion people to play soccer is an aggressive move – Will it pay off?

The Chinese Men’s National Team is currently 88th in the FIFA World Rankings while the women, who reached the 1999 World Cup Final, are 14th.