World Cup 2018 is in full swing and as us Chinese are doing that once-every-four-years pondering on why China have once again failed to qualify for the tournament. In the entire World Cup history the Chinese national team have only qualified once, quite a while back in 2002. The team then had a dreadful go of it, failing to score a single goal in group play.
How can a country of 1.6 billion souls, in a football region that isn’t exactly competitive (you’ve got the twin titans of Japan and South Korea and that’s it), can’t ever seem to form a competitive team? One would think that simply by law of large numbers China would at least be able to scrap a group together and consistently qualify for the games.
It isn’t for the lack of money: god knows China is full of wealthy corporations and millionaires. My father tells me China’s football federation and the clubs are awash with capital, able to attract foreign players away from Europe to the Chinese leagues. On the contrary I think it’s because of the immense prevalence of money that's preventing China from playing football on the world stage.
I see a succinct lack of national pride in Chinese athletes. For footballers in other countries it is an absolute dream to represent their national flag. Just this past weekend the Mexican players was in tears of joy because they won the match against the defending German champions. I seldom see this sort of elation and emotion from Chinese athletes. Look at the Olympics games: where are the signature shots of Chinese athletes standing on the top podium step bawling their eyes out while the national anthem is playing?
In every Olympics China wins a ton of medals, but how many of those are for team sports?
My father says sports in China is too focused on the individual, not nearly enough on team and country, and it’s largely due to the corruption of money. Athletes are selfish towards their own achievements in order to maximize the amount of money they’ll receive - there’s no play for fun or for the love of the game. A player gets upset his teammate scored the goal rather than himself. The lack of unity and playing for the collective have hugely contributed to China’s futility in getting into the World Cup tournament.
I don’t know if the team China will ever get its act together and fight with some national spirit, but I constantly hope. I would love nothing more than to root for my birth country in future World Cups.