China's bid for a level playing field
Updated: 2015-08-06

Youth football tournament expected to help young players learn from international competition.

In hosting the 2015 China (Shanghai) International Youth Football Tournament, the first of its kind, physical educators and football experts hoped the event would introduce new training expertise and team-building skills as the country looks to inject new life into youth football.

The Shanghai tournament, from July 11 to 17, attracted eight overseas teams and four domestic ones: two teams from Germany and one each from Spain, Slovakia, Russia, Australia, Cameroon, and Thailand along with two teams from Shanghai and one each from Fujian province and the Inner Mongolia autonomous region. In total, 246 players under the age of 18 competed.

"We need to review China's football development from an international perspective and find a practical way to promote national football development," said Wang Dengfeng, director of the education ministry's physical education, health and arts department.

Cameroon's youth club beat the Slovakian side 2-1 to claim the tournament crown.

"We are super happy. The final game was a tough one. Slovakia is a brilliant team," said Djoko Kamga Balmain, coach of the Cameroon team after the finals.


The Cameroon youth football club beat eight overseas and four Chinese youth teams to win the 2015 China (Shanghai) International Youth Football Tournament championship on July 17. [Tan Leda/China Daily]

Du Zhanyuan, vice-minister of the ministry of education; Qiao Wei, vice-chairman of the All-China Federation of Returned Overseas Chinese; and Weng Tiehui, deputy mayor of Shanghai, attended the closing ceremony at the Shanghai Yuanshen Sports Center Stadium on July 17.

At the closing ceremony, several individual awards were handed out, including best athlete, best goalkeeper, best coach, best referee and best scorer.

The sports gala was co-organized by the Shanghai Municipal Education Commission, the Shanghai Sports Bureau, the Shanghai Federation of Returned Overseas Chinese, the China School Sports Federation and the Shanghai Overseas Chinese Foundation.


Players from the Slovakian youth football club greet their young fans on July 17 before the championship match kicks off. [Gu Chao/China Daily]

Organizers said the main purpose of the tournament was to promote cross-border communication in youth football and to advance China's football reform.

"It is not only a platform for global youths to demonstrate their football skills but also to help them have a better understanding of Chinese culture," said Ding Li, director of the sports and arts department of the Shanghai Municipal Education Commission. "It helps strengthen communication and interaction between Chinese youths and foreign friends."

In their free time during the week, the foreign football players and coaches were invited to visit schools and tourist destinations in Shanghai to learn more about China. They visited the Shanghai Museum and Yuyuan Garden and watched a circus performance at Shanghai Circus World.

"Last week was intense but we got to see something about life in China. The things beneath the picture are very important," said Folker Liebe, coach of one of the German youth football clubs.

The tournament is also an important platform to promote exchanges between countries in youth football.

The organizers announced the establishment of the International Youth Football League at the closing ceremony to potentially establish future competitions. All 12 football teams in this year's tournament will be members of the league. Organizers said the league could also facilitate interaction between foreign and Chinese coaches.


A player from a German youth football club learns how to write Chinese calligraphy. [Tan Leda/China Daily]

During the tournament, the players' passion and positive attitudes impressed organizers and referees.

"No matter how good or bad the score was, all the players strived for the best results until the last second," said Zhang Zhe, a Chinese national tournament referee.

"They attacked and defended the opposing team actively and set tactics effectively. We are glad that we did not see any deliberate body attacks during the tournament."

The professionalism and respect shown by foreign players to referees' decisions also left deep impressions.

The event could not have gotten off the ground, organizers said, had it not been for the financial support of overseas Chinese.

"Without the support of overseas Chinese, preparations for the tournament could not have gone as smoothly," said Shen Min, president of the Shanghai All-China Federation of Returned Overseas Chinese.

The Shanghai Overseas Chinese Foundation, a public donation fund management organization supported by the Shanghai All-China Federation of Returned Overseas Chinese, shows that overseas Chinese contributed about 5.6 million yuan ($900,000; 830,000 euros) to pay for the insurance, flights and expenses for the eight foreign teams.

Over the past year, the foundation invited overseas Chinese from around the world to sponsor the event.

Gong Liming, president of the European Federation of Shanghai Society, donated 1 million yuan of his own money to the event.

"We think the tournament is a big, charitable and practical event that could support development of youth football in China," Gong said.

"China has recorded significant economic growth in past decades. But football in the country is still underdeveloped."

Gong said overseas Chinese will continue to support the development of youth football and provide financial supports to Chinese youth teams in future tournaments.

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