Those involved in the ancient form of soccer known as Cuju launched a bid for the game to be recognized as part of the world's intangible heritage on Tuesday in Linzi District, east China's Shandong Province, where the game was first played.
Officials from Linzi government gave copies of the balls used in Cuju and books on the ancient game to representatives from UNESCO and the Ministry of Culture of China who attended the ceremony which signaled the start of the Cuju campaign. Promises were made that whatever effort was required to have Cuju listed among world intangible heritages would be made.
Cuju is though to be the oldest form of modern soccer. FIFA President Sepp Blatter acknowledged in 2004 that China's Linzi District was the birthplace of the sport and it had then spread abroad to Egypt, Rome, France and the rest of the world.
According to historical records Cuju was a very popular game in China's Spring and Autumn Period (770 BC - 476 BC) in Linzi, the capital of the Qi State (479 -502) and one of the largest cities in the world at that time.
But officials with the Linzi government said it was difficult to revitalize the game as it had lost popularity during the reign by minorities in Yuan (1279-1368) and Qing Dynasties (1644-1911). And some masters of the sport died without passing their skills on to the following generations.
Earlier this year Cuju was recognized as being part of China's national intangible heritage which resulted in the game being given protection with annual funding from the Ministry of Culture identified to keep it alive.
Linzi District has set up Cuju courses in the urban primary and middle schools and the number of Cuju players in Linzihas now totals around 5,000.
Brendan Menton, director with the development section of AFC said, "We should cheer for Cuju, cheer for Linzi. Cuju doesn't only belong to China it belongs to all of us. It's a treasure of world culture. "
Zhu Guoping, vice director of the culture development center with the General Administration of Sport of China said, "Linzi has been growing to be the cultural center of Cuju and modern soccer with its construction of an international soccer museum. There's a great push to revitalize the ancient game."
FIFA, the Football Association of China and the Cuju Preservation Association in Kyoto sent letters of congratulation to Linzi in support of the campaign and Cuju teams from Linzi and South Korea played an exhibition game at Tuesday's ceremony.
(Xinhua News Agency September 14, 2006)