From an audience of 748 million in 2004 when China was a cup finalist, Asian Cup viewership has dived with that country's fading fortunes: 655 million in 2007 and 484 million in 2011.
China's U-23 team's early exit from the 2012 London Olympics qualifying rounds in June drew attention to still greater future problems for the China Football Association and the continent.
According to China Sports Daily, the more than 650,000 U-18 players registered with the CFA in 1995 had dwindled to 30,000 in 2007. And the players in the current Chinese Olympic squad "were selected from only 320 players".
And another shocking statistic: according to Shenzhen Evening News, "there were 21 privately-run football academies that had 1,290 kids studying and over 70 football clubs with over 5,000 kids back in 2002 in Liaoning Province. The number of registered football academies this year is down to zero."
Fortunately, writes China Sports Review, the CFA's new leadership, headed by Wei Di, "has actually accomplished several things that should be given credit to." Significant changes over the past 18 months include:
- Ending the "ridiculous transfer policy" that made players immovable up to 30 months;
- Bringing back the reserve leagues;
- Bringing back the FA Cup;
- Setting up National Youth Football Leagues; and
- Setting up School Football Test Cities.
The writers state that "none of these works can offer short-term return to Chinese football, but all are positive for the development of the sport in the long run."
The "over 2,700 elementary and junior highs" signed up for 47 Test Cities are impressive and auger well for an "enormous players base" ... providing the boys can be engaged by the sport "ten years from now".
The top priority for the FA, it is suggested, should be "the welfare of Chinese footballers" - without which why would parents "consider football as a decent option for their kids?
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