05 May 2016
This week, a small city in England has taken over headlines thanks to its football team. The tale of Leicester City FC’s unlikeliest of Premier League triumphs illustrates both the reach of football and the appetite the public has for an underdog story. It is this same global impression and response that China hopes to recreate by gracing the highest echelons of the football world.
In the last month, China has revealed its master plan to become a footballing juggernaut by 2050, further reinforcing their commitment to the sport. This follows up the recent waves China made in the world of football during the last transfer period, with more money being spent on player transfers by clubs in the Chinese Super League than any other league in the world. This includes the transfers of established names in football, who previously would have never entertained the idea of moving to China to ply their trade. The potential investment is enormous, with hopes that the industry will be worth $850 billion by 2025. These moves raise two main questions: why the interest in football and could China successfully become a football superpower?
Investments are generally intended to produce an economic return; however, football is far from a guaranteed moneymaker. Even most of the English Premier League clubs, among the richest in the world, are indebted, with only a handful being consistently profitable. The new Chinese Super League TV deal for 2016-2020 does total more than $1 billion, which is a big jump compared to before, but the majority of investors are unlikely see a return for a long time, if ever. In a period where there is never-ending talk of the slowing Chinese economy, why would the country invest so much in an industry that might never make a return? The official line from the party is that they expect to create a significant domestic sports economy and create jobs while diversifying their economy. This is a reasonable goal, but there is likely more to it.
… Aédán Mordecai is a Research Analyst with the Centre for Multilateralism Studies at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), based in Nanyang Technological University, Singapore. His research covers political economy, development and sporting affairs.
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Last updated on 06/05/2016