BEIJING: China will bid to host the World Cup not only for the sake of the competitive results but also to help popularise football in China, said president of the Chinese Football Association, Cai Zhenhua writes KEIR RADNEDGE.

However this would not be any time soon. The hosting of the finals by Qatar in 2026 means no Asian nation can apply to stage the finals until the 2034 tournament.

Cai’s remarks were published in a long report by the official Xinhua news agency hours after an overall reform plan was published by the Chinese government in a bid to boost the sport in the world’s most populous country.

He said: “Along with our long-term plan to improve the environment of soccer and the popularization of the sport, China, as a big country, should bid to host the World Cup.”

According to Xinhua the reform plan, approved last month by China’s central reform group, showed the determination to meet the needs of people to popularize the sport across the country and finally promote the level of national teams.

Remarkably considering the size of the country, China’s national team have reached the finals of the World Cup only once, in 2002, when they were eliminated in the first round group stage in Japan and South Korea.

The Xinhua report added:

“Revitalizing soccer is a must for building China into a sports powerhouse and also the earnest hope of the people,” said the plan, named the overall plan of Chinese soccer reform and development.

Goals are set in the plan that include the women’s team returning to the world top class as a mid-term goal and the men’s side joining the world leading powers in the long run. Bidding to host the World Cup is listed as a long-term goal, too.

“However, the significance of it is not only to seek the competitive results. By hosting the biggest soccer event in the world, we can further popularize the sport in our country, bring soccer culture to more people, and lead more and more people to the world’s most popular sport,” added Cai.

On which edition of the World Cup China will apply for, Cai said CFA will start a research on it. As Russia and Qatar will host the 2018 and 2022 editions respectively, the latest World Cup eligible to bid for is in the year of 2026.

Before the long-term goal to achieve, CFA has lots of work to do.

In contrast to its excellence in sports such as table tennis, badminton, diving, shooting, weightlifting and gymnastics, Chinese soccer has been bothered by the lackluster performance of the national sides.

The men’s team, now ranked 83rd worldwide, just qualified for one World Cup finals, in 2002. Meanwhile, the women’s side is struggling to recreate their glory as the 1999 World Cup runners-up and even failed to qualify for the 2011 edition of the competition.

“The development of Chinese soccer must be a long process. It’s not three years or five years, it’s not eight or ten years. In the long run, we shouldn’t judge the work by the performances of national teams in a short period of time,” said Cai. “As the plan said, we should make efforts to let more people take to the sport and let the culture of soccer take root among the people. That’s also important.”

According to the plan, the reforms involve almost every aspect of the sport, including the professional clubs, professional leagues, the national teams and grassroots soccer.

The plan attached much importance to school soccer and developing the young talents. Soccer will be added into compulsory curriculum in elementary and middle schools across the country.

“On the basis of 5,000 schools specialized in soccer today, in 2020, the number will increase to 20,000,” said the plan, aiming to use soccer as an education tool not only to enlarge the soccer population but also improve the overall quality of students.

China international Sun Ke expressed his support for the plan.

“The plan is great for children to take part in the sport and give their parents a lot of confidence. The future of the sport will get better each day,” he said.