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China passes soccer reform plan

Students laugh during a soccer training course at Haidian National Primary School in Beijing on Tuesday. A European-style curriculum has been launched at the school. Photo: Xinhua

China's central reform group, chaired by President Xi Jinping, on Friday passed a plan to revive soccer, a sport that has been for years a source of national embarrassment.

"We must develop and revitalize soccer to ensure we are a strong nation of sports," according to a statement issued after a meeting of the central reform leading group.

"It is the desperate desire of the people as well."

China must overcome its "defective system", which has impeded the development of the game, and provide better "institutional guarantees" for its progress, the statement said.

More efforts should be made at the grassroots level to nurture young talents and to ensure the integration of professional clubs, school teams and amateur teams, added the statement.

Soccer has long been an embarrassment to Chinese people with bad performances being coupled with corruption. The country has only once qualified for the World Cup, in 2002, when they failed to score a single goal and lost all three group matches. Bribery scandals involving players and officials were widely reported in recent years.

"China has to overcome systematic flaws which have impeded soccer's development and provide better institutional guarantees for the sport," the statement said.

Known as a soccer fan, President Xi is considered by many to be a "savior" of the sport.

In November, the Ministry of Education made soccer a compulsory part of physical education in schools and promised to set up more academies where Chinese students practice soccer under a European-style curriculum that groomed the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo.

The program will be introduced to about 700 primary schools across China this year, and will provide Chinese students with the same advanced theoretical and field training regimes that their European peers enjoy.

To promote participation, soccer skills will be included in the PE test for senior high school entrance exams from 2016 in Beijing, under a regulation published by the Beijing Commission of Education last year.

Han Zheng, a PE teacher from the Middle School Attached to the Beijing University of Petroleum, was impressed by the curriculum's appeal to students.

"The core philosophy of the curriculum and the biggest advantage compared with other courses is to keep the children on the field by engaging them through happy experiences, not grueling workouts. That's the key to keeping children interested from an early age in Europe's soccer powers," he said.

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