World news story

Nurturing a football nation: the role of grassroots football

An event held at the British Ambassador’s Residence in Beijing on 12 September explored the role of grassroots football in building a football nation.

Sun Jihai made an introductory speech at the event.
Sun Jihai made an introductory speech at the event.

President Xi Jinping has made the development of football a priority in China, from grassroots to elite level. The Chinese government unveiled a plan in April 2016 to put China on the path to becoming a football superpower by 2050.

The UK is seen as the home of football both at the grassroots level and at the elite level. Almost every community has a football team and the English Premier League is the most watched and lucrative league in the world. However, there is still much debate in the UK over the need for more funding of grassroots football as well as debate over the number of UK players regularly being in the starting line up for Premier League clubs.

To further this debate about what being a football nation actually means, the benefits of grassroots football and the best methods to cultivate a strong football culture at the community level, the British Embassy in Beijing held an outdoor film screening and panel discussion event on 12 September at the British Ambassador’s Residence.

The event was organised in partnership with Beijing-the One Sport and Culture and supported by Super Sports Media. This event was part of the Goal! China Football Film Festival (Goal-CFFF) organised by Beijing-the One Sport and Culture this year.

Over 200 people including football fans, government, industry and media representatives attended the event. The importance of the event was highlighted by several special guest appearances. Sun Jihai, a former player for Manchester City and now Club Ambassador in China, made an introductory speech at the event. While Yang Chen, former player for the Chinese National Team and current coach of Beijing Konggu Football Club, participated in the final audience question and answer session.

Two short films were screened at the event, including one showcasing the popularity of the English Premier League with Chinese fans. The films highlighted the importance of football to individuals and communities and sparked a passionate panel discussion about a range of issues including UK-China football collaboration.

The UK government is working with England’s Premier League and the Football Association to deliver a large scale coach development programme in partnership with the Ministry of Education. By 2020, the aim is to train up to 5000 football coaches and referees in China.

The new ‘Britain, Home of Amazing Moments’ campaign was also launched at the event, to inspire even more Chinese visitors to put the UK at the top of their travel list, particularly when it comes to football. Football is the number one sporting draw for international tourists to the UK. Last year 800-thousand of the 13 million fans attending Premier League matches were international visitors to Britain and that number is growing year on year.

The British Ambassador to China, Dame Barbara Woodward OBE DCMG, said at the event:

The topic of ‘Building a Football Nation: the Role of Grassroots Football’ is important for both China and the UK – a shared interest and an area where we are already co-operating closely. The UK is ready to work with China to achieve its goals.

Ms Yan Xinmin, founder and director of Goal-CFFF and also an ardent football fan and player said:

The aim of Goal- CFFF is to show how football can change a person’s life. The films screened at the festival tell stories about the passion people feel for football, whether it is a girl from the Himalayan Mountains or members of a football club struggling to keep the club alive.

We also want to encourage the public to produce homegrown football films, that tell stories about the passion for football in China. We believe that images and film can be a powerful tool to help build a football culture and nation.

Published 23 September 2016