Developing football in China has become a priority for Asian
Football Confederation (AFC) president Mohammed bin Hammam, who
sees massive commercial opportunities in the booming economic
Bin Hammam and a high-powered team from the AFC are in China
this week for meetings with Sports Minister Liu Peng and to attend
the China Football Development Conference in Qingdao.
The visit is part of the AFC's Vision China program, a master
plan pioneered by Bin Hammam for developing and promoting football
in the world's most populous country.
"China is the fastest growing economy in the world. Because of
their strong economy and huge population, China will always be a
candidate for any profitable commercial project," he told AFP in an
"As we know, football today is also a business. And football in
China is not only a priority for the AFC, but also for the world's
"Big leagues and big clubs from outside Asia are seeking
commercial expansion in China."
Vision China, which aims to establish clubs and grassroots
football leagues to lay the foundations for the future, got
underway in Qingdao and Wuhan cities last year and will soon expand
to Beijing, Shanghai and other places.
The plan is to build the game's popularity to rival the
fanaticism of football supporters in Europe and South America.
"We have ensured that the strategic model of Vision China is
scalable, sustainable and expandable," he said.
"By this I mean that given the right time frame and the right
support, we can reach the very last city and last village in
Clubs like English champions Chelsea are getting involved, with
an eye on snapping up bright young stars of the future that come
through the ranks.
Chelsea chief executive Peter Kenyon has made recent trips to
China and is accompanying Bin Hammam, a Qatari who splits his time
between his home country and the AFC headquarters in Kuala
"Chelsea's mission is to build success, not buy success," Kenyon
said on a recent visit to Kuala Lumpur, in a veiled dig at clubs
like Real Madrid that have blatantly cashed in on tours to China in
"Our clear objective and vision is to develop Chelsea as an
international club. This would not be possible without taking Asia
But there is still a long way to go in China, where top clubs
have been mired in allegations of corruption and match fixing
stemming from illegal gambling. They are not profitable enterprises
as in Europe.
Bin Hammam suggests that gambling be legalised so it can be
controlled and the revenue ploughed back into grassroots football
to help the game develop from the bottom up.
Clubs also need to adopt a more professional approach in terms
of management, marketing and media coverage.
"Of course, from a commercial perspective, there needs to be an
appropriate business environment, with relevant laws, to be able to
embrace these commercial objectives fully," said bin Hammam.
"For example, professional clubs need to be regulated based on
commercial laws and best practice."
Nevertheless, he believes that football in China, and Asia as a
whole, has unlimited possibilities to develop and become as popular
as it is in Europe, if it is managed properly.
"I think that football can be as popular in all of Asia, not
only in China," he said.
"We need to develop first of all the commercial identity of the
clubs and leagues, and harness the talented players who can boost
the image of the Asian game. We are on our way."
The AFC has recently set up a committee to study the world's top
leagues so Asia can replicate their success.
"Hopefully by 2009, 10 selected countries will be adopting a
more professional commercial approach to their national leagues.
This will provide the benchmark standard for the rest of Asia to
follow," he said.
(AFP via China Daily April 24, 2006)