It may be widely known that China PR are working against the clock in developing their football, however, even those following the country closely over the recent years may be unaware that the world's most populous nation have embarked on a massive, nationwide campaign at grassroots level.
The Chinese Football Association (CFA) have set in motion a plan of school football which has touched millions of children since 2009. Organised by the Chinese football authorities as well as the local FAs and sports organisations, this programme has played a huge part in promoting the game among youngsters across the country over the past four years.
"It is a development program which mainly targets school kids," Lu Yu, a CFA official in charge of the campaign, told FIFA.com. "In recent years we have organised school football leagues in the major cities across our country. Each city features 50-200 school teams playing in their local leagues in a home-and-away format. And the cities select the best players to represent their regions in the national camps each summer, known as the Chinese School Youth Summer Camps."
The scheme has proved an unprecedented success, with footballing passion ignited among the school children from over 100 cities including Beijing and Shanghai. In the process, a great number of local coaches have got involved, who have enhanced their training know-how and skills.
"The past four years have seen our ten-year program spread across 123 major cities, with three million youngsters and over 6,000 coaches involved," Yu continued. "For the next six years we aim to cover all 660 cities throughout China and football will become the undisputed number one sport among our students."
With its goal of promoting the game across the globe, FIFA has lent its expertise to the Chinese campaign. A series of FIFA grassroots instructors have taken part in these camps, training more than 1,000 local coaches and PE (Physical Education) teachers and instilling the FIFA grassroots philosophy into the youngsters.
The recent 2013 summer camp saw a pair of FIFA experts, Dato' Yap Nyim Keong and Horst Kriete, provide help throughout. For Lu Yu, this year's national camp, which lasted ten stages in ten cities across two months, wouldn't have achieved its goal had it not been for aid from the FIFA instructors.
"They conducted training sessions for students while giving courses for the local coaches," he continued. "And at the end of each stage the FIFA instructors helped us select the 30 best players who will go on to take part in the winter camp early next year. We have so far selected 180 boys to form the Team of Hopes, with 120 girls forming the Team of Roses."
Boosted by the success so far, Lu Yu is optimistic about the programme’s future. He said: “These camps have provided our kids with a perfect setting to demonstrate their talents and particularly, it helps attract attention of children. Aside from improving football skills, the youngsters can learn to respect rivals, work hard, enhance team spirit - all virtues that football can teach.”