China says football stars of future need training from birth

China says football stars of future need training from birth
China's players listen to the national anthem before their FIFA Futsal World Cup qualifying soccer match against Ukraine at the Gimnasio Maracanazinho in Rio de Janeiro October 9, 2008.

BEIJING - China's footballing stars of the future need to start being trained from birth, the government said on Friday as President Xi Jinping signed off on a new plan to boost the country's much-maligned efforts at the sport.

Xi is an avid football fan and has spoken in the past of "three wishes" for China; to qualify for another World Cup since their first and only appearance at the 2002 finals, to host a World Cup and to eventually win one.

But the sport has faced a persistent problem with corruption and match-fixing in China and the national team has fared poorly on the international stage.

The new "football reform plan", approved by Xi at a meeting of a committee which has until now generally focused on heady economic issues, says that a country strong in sports needs to be good at football too, something that is the "ardent wish of the whole nation".

"Grasp the development opportunity as babies, from the roots," state news agency Xinhua said, in its summary of the reform plan.

"The sports world, and especially the footballing world, needs to grab the opportunity, and be audacious in reform," it said.

While the report mentioned no specific measures the government would take, the reform plan does underscore the high level of attention Chinese football is getting under Xi, who assumed office two years ago.

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