Education authorities announced the launch of a new program to boost the popularity of soccer in schools on March 10.
The aim of "Campus Soccer" is to boost interest in the game among primary and high school students, while also building the necessary infrastructure to support its development, the Shanghai Education Commission said.
The announcement follows calls from President Xi Jinping to improve the way in which the "beautiful game" is taught in schools, with the long-term goal of seeing the national side perform better on the world stage.
As well as nurturing talent, the program, which will run across 1,500 schools, will offer sports teachers and would-be referees the opportunity to go on professional coaching courses, and provide encouragement for fan clubs and cheerleading squads.
"Applying more professional techniques and practices is bound to encourage more people to get involved in soccer," said Shao Bin, a PE teacher at the No. 2 Penglai Road Primary School in the city’s Huangpu District.
At present, only about 150 of the school’s 1,122 pupils — all of them boys — play soccer on a regular basis, while just half that number are members of the teams that play in the Shanghai School Football League, Shao said.
"Soccer is a great way for kids to learn about cooperation and teamwork, and also helps them to keep fit," he said.
Despite the advantages, some parents are concerned that if their children play too much soccer, it will be at the expense of their studies, Shao said.
"But we find that often the opposite is true, with students who play soccer actually doing better in their academic work," he said.
Although Shao said soccer is relatively popular among his pupils, the school has only three paid coaches, three volunteers and limited playing space, so a lot of pupils never get to play.
"If we had more funds and better facilities, we could accommodate everyone," he said.
At the Shanghai Changzheng Secondary School, very few senior pupils play soccer, its principal told Shanghai Daily yesterday.
"We tried to organize a seniors team, but there was a lot of resistance from parents," said Li Shaobao.
"They said they wanted their children to concentrate on getting a place at a good university. In the end, there were so few students showing an interest that we dropped the idea completely," he said.
While Li welcomes the Campus Soccer scheme, he said more must be done to change the thinking of anxious parents.
"Perhaps the authorities should consider easing the academic demands on youngsters who show outstanding talent at soccer, so that they can give it more attention," he said.
The campus scheme was launched in response to the poor performance of China’s national football team in recent years. China has only once — in 2002 — qualified for the World Cup Finals and as of yesterday ranked 82nd on the FIFA world rankings, just four places above Sierra Leone and four below Haiti.
(Source: Shanghai Daily)
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