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Kategorie: Football Governance

Publication: “Chinese Football in the Era of Xi Jinping: What do Supporters Think?”

Publication: “Chinese Football in the Era of Xi Jinping: What do Supporters Think?”

Chinese football is a largely neglected research object in social science research on China, although Chinese president Xi Jinping himself stated that „[f]ootball is the most popular sport in the world and there are over 100 million football fans in China alone“. Recently, however, the Journal of Current Chinese Affairs published an article by Ilker Gündogan and Albrecht Sonntag called “Chinese Football in the Era of Xi Jinping: What do Supporters Think?”. The study aims to illustrate how the Chinese football community perceived the newly launched national football reform programmes in the People’s Republic of China.

The article starts by giving the reader a brief introduction to Chinese football history, explaining that, despite being very successful in other sports (especially individual sports), China has failed to reach the same level of competitiveness and success in football. The men‘s national football team has only once qualified for a FIFA World Cup and is struggling to catch up with the women‘s national team. Furthermore, corruption and fraud caused detrimental effects on the reputation and prominence of the Chinese football leagues. Even before Xi Jinping came to office as General Secretary of the Communist Party of China, he has expressed a strong desire to change the poor state and lousy image of Chinese football. For instance, in 2011, he revealed his “three wishes for Chinese football”: to qualify for a World Cup, to host a World Cup, and finally to win a World Cup. And, after having taken office as president in 2013, the Chinese political leadership released a “comprehensive” national football development strategy in order to “improve physical health, enrich cultural life, promote the spirit of patriotism and collectivism, develop the sports industry” as well as to meet “the new popular expectations by realising the dream of becoming a powerful sporting nation”. To achieve these goals, a centralisation of national football governance structures was enforced by state authorities, meaning that “the political leadership of the PRC has shifted decision-making powers in Chinese football […] to an even higher level of authority; this, in turn, stresses the degree of importance attributed to football by China’s contemporary political leaders”.

The implications of football play an essential role in China‘s political efforts to develop “the people’s game”. Football today serves as a consolidator of national identity not only in China but also in many other countries. Historically, this facet has been especially highlighted in the context of European and Latin American communities, which means that the game’s propensity to serve as a stabiliser of national identity can be applied to many different “varieties of nationalism” around the globe. As Gündogan and Sonntag put it: Football was considered historically “as a mock confrontation of nations”, focusing on “territorial layout and battlefield terminology (‘attack,’ ‘defence,’ ‘wings,’ ‘shots,’ ‘captain,’ and the like) [that’s why different political] regimes were tempted to instrumentalise the game as a way of consolidating national identities”. It is therefore not too surprising that in particular national football teams “are heavily charged with symbolic value” and consequently “trigger profoundly nationalistic identification patterns based on feelings of belonging, perceived singularity, and national pride”.

A notable feature of this study is that, in comparison to some other studies on Chinese football, the results are not merely based on hypotheses, but provide original data. The authors created an online survey with 40 questions in order to examine the attitudes of Chinese football supporters, with particular emphasis laid on issues of nationalism and governance. The survey was disseminated via Chinese social media channels such as WeChat and Sina Weibo, and the responses of 2,499 survey participants from all over mainland China were taken into consideration. Some 1885 respondents completed all 40 questions.

The results suggest that “[g]iven the place that football tends to occupy in the lives of those who consider themselves ‘supporters,’ it is coherent that the survey participants felt concerned by a reform programme that is directly targeted at their passion and is thus likely to have an impact on their everyday lives”.

Although the survey confirms that most survey participants identify with the Chinese national team and emotionally react to certain symbolic elements and behaviours, only very few respondents are satisfied with the performance of the Chinese men’s national football team (1.6 per cent). Moreover, a significant 80 per cent of respondents expect that the Chinese men’s national team will not be able to overtake those of Japan and South Korea in the FIFA World Ranking over the next ten years.

Both in several media reports and the official documents, the personal preference and fondness of President Xi Jinping for “the beautiful game” were repeatedly emphasised. The survey participants were asked what, in their opinion, were the main motivations behind the reform and development efforts vis-à-vis Chinese football. The responses reveal that a large majority of respondents perceives the reforms as a response to a public demand (80 per cent) and an attempt to raise China’s soft power on the international level (59 per cent), very much in line with the officially stated goals in the reform programmes.

The complete article and survey questions can be found here (free access): https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1177/186810261804700104

China-EU or EU-China Sports Diplomacy?

China-EU or EU-China Sports Diplomacy?

 

Earlier this month (December 2017), the team of China Football 8 was invited to participate in the ‘Seminar on Sport Diplomacy’ in Brussels. The seminar was organised by the Directorate-General for Education, Youth, Sport and Culture of the European Commission, as a follow-up to the High-Level Group on sports diplomacy set up in 2015 by Commissioner Tibor Navracsics in order to elaborate political initiatives and recommendations in this field. The group included active and former athletes, academics, think-tank and media representatives. In an interview with the think-tank ‘Sport et Citoyenneté‘, Mr Navracsics indicated that the High-Level Group’s work might lead to more coordinated efforts by the EU Member States to harness the potential of sport for diplomacy and ‘make the EU a stronger global actor.’

On November 2016, the General Secretariat of the Council issued its conclusions on sports diplomacy. Sport is considered ‘a possible tool in supporting intercultural, economic and political cooperation and understanding between nations and cultures’. Moreover, sport is assigned the ability to ‘shape perceptions in order to support reaching broader foreign policy goals’ and promoting values such as ‘fair play, equality, respect for diversity, integrity, discipline, excellence, friendship, tolerance and mutual understanding which bring different people and countries together.’ Projects related to sports diplomacy should be realised through the EU funding programmes in the area of EU External Relations as well as through the Erasmus+ programme.

Against the background of these developments, the big question is of course: what are the target countries? And within the framework of this blog, the obvious question is whether the People’s Republic of China (PRC) could be a target country or even a partner of EU sports diplomacy.

According to Professor Thierry Zintz, the Dean of the Faculty of Sports Sciences of the Université Catholique de Louvain and rapporteur of the High-Level Group, sport is a source of cultural soft power. This definition fits very well with the official statements of Mr Xi Jinping, President of the PRC. On October 2017, Mr Xi Jinping delivered a report at the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China (CPC) where he revealed that China’s political leadership will ‘speed up efforts to build China into a powerful sports nation’. To achieve this goal, the CPC ‘will strengthen people-to-people and cultural exchanges with other countries, giving prominence to Chinese culture while also drawing on other cultures, […] improve our capacity for engaging in international communication so as to tell China’s stories well, present a true, multi-dimensional, and panoramic view of China, and enhance our country’s cultural soft power.’

The concept of soft power has been used and abused in studies about China in recent years. The major problems are the imprecise contextualisation, wording, quantifying and application of this concept. Some argue it is no longer relevant in the context of sport mega-events. Nonetheless, the very vague derivation and interpretation of the concept is also used in the context of the developmental aspirations in Chinese football and the hosting of the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics and Paralympic Games.

One month after Mr Xi Jinping’s speech at the 19th National Congress of the CPC, Mr Navracsics and Chinese Vice-Premier Mrs Liu Yandong met on the occasion of the 4th EU-China High-Level People-to-People Dialogue in Shanghai. In this context, the topic of sports was discussed for the first time.

However, the question remains whether China is a target of European sports diplomacy, or whether it is perhaps the other way round! The fact is that there are various cooperation opportunities associated with sports, such as in fields of health, governance, economics, education, etc. Sport in general, and football, in particular, have a multi-dimensional impact on human beings: they attract a lot of attention, trigger emotions and create a strong sense of belonging or rejection, have increasing economic weight, and immediate implications on public health. Sport is indeed a promising avenue for engaging in People-to-People dialogue not only on ‘high level’, but also between sportspeople and citizens.

It remains to be seen whether the diplomatic relations between the EU and China in this specific field will lead to mutual influence and exchange, beyond ‘soft-power’ posturing.

Seminar on Sport Diplomacy (1)

Seminar on Sport Diplomacy (2)

Welcome

Welcome

 

My name is Ilker Gündogan. I was born in Gelsenkirchen, Germany, in 1988. I am a PhD candidate at the Ruhr-University Bochum and ESSCA School of Management. My current research focuses on China’s football politics and market creation in the era of Xi Jinping. The overarching research question of my dissertation project relates to the understanding of current developments in Chinese football: what are, beyond official and popular narratives, the underlying motivations of the Chinese government to promote football in an unprecedented manner? Or, in a nutshell: why football? And: why now? And what does this case study of the big football reform programme tell us about policy-making in contemporary China, especially with regard to the complementarity of top-down and bottom-up impulses of policy initiation?

This is my first blog post. This blog is featuring both academic reflexions (including from guest contributors) and general information on Chinese football (both in historical and contemporary perspective). The objective of the online presence is to set up, beyond the dissertation project, a small standing group of industry experts, observers and scholars from various disciplines who are interested in working on football in Chinese society, politics and economics and who can bring together their different expertise and methodology in a loose network.

Welcome to China Football 8