In this episode of The Negotiation, we speak with Cameron Wilson, one of China’s top football experts in China with the thick Scottish accent to go along with it. And when a Scot is talking football, for those North American listeners, that means we’re talking soccer. Cameron comes from a rock-solid journalist background and is a communications specialist with a profound understanding of Chinese culture, as well as a writer on all things Chinese football as well; he has been published by World Soccer, The Guardian, and Agence France-Presse. He is also the Founding Editor of Wild East Football. We cover the full landscape of football in China - its history and background, both the men’s and women’s teams, its fans, professional teams vs. grassroots organizations, football as a career path in China, the growth trajectory of the sport in China, and what the sport needs in order to become successful. Enjoy!
Topics Discussed and Key Points:
● China’s football landscape
● Why football has a more active fanbase than basketball in China
● Grassroots football in China
● How prioritization of education over almost all else impacts sport culture in China
● The biggest football teams in China and their dynamic with fans
● Chinese football and the Chinese government
● Where Chinese football players need to improve on a tactical level
● Covering football in China as a foreign journalist
● The future of football in China
Today on The Negotiation, we talk with Cameron Wilson, a writer on all things Chinese football published by World Soccer, The Guardian, and AFP. He is the Founding Editor of Wild East Football.
Football has been “on the go” in China since 1994 but has had uneven development since its introduction. From corruption scandals to failed investments in an attempt to give local players a platform on the world stage, Cameron says that Chinese football “is in a bad place” up until today.
Cameron names another issue regarding the slow growth of football in China as the lack of a grassroots system. As with other sports in the country, attempts at development very much come top-down—and so far, there has been no Yao Ming of football to inspire the youth. The relatively low interest in building the national player base is further compounded by the fact that parents continue to push education as a priority above all else.
Chinese football, according to Cameron, is probably “too tactical” for their own good. That is, there is very little if any, encouragement to be creative on the pitch, as opposed to the football culture of the West.
Finally, Cameron speaks on the difficulty of being able to paint a full, well-rounded picture of Chinese football as a foreign journalist, considering there is a lot of suspicion toward the foreign press.
Overall, football is not dead in China, but it is developing at a snail’s pace. Now that the pandemic has further hampered the growth of the sports landscape in general, the future of Chinese football is uncertain.
“The U.S. has been a consistent World Cup qualifier since it was launched. So, basically, the domestic league in the U.S. has supported the national team; whereas in China, it has not had the same effect. China has only been to the World Cup once, which was in 2002, and they basically went home after three defeats and scored no goals.”
“Grassroots football in China is quite unlike grassroots sports elsewhere, because there is simply a lack of people involved. [...] There is not really a casual or leisure grassroots sports system in China. Everything is based on identifying young talents at a very young age and whisking them off to an Olympic gold medal factory.”