China claims Development honour
© AFP

FIFA’s Development Award has gone to China at the end of a year in which the world’s most populous nation engaged in a hugely successful FIFA grassroots programme.

More than a million Chinese youngsters are to be involved in the first part of this programme, with many more to follow as efforts are stepped up to develop the country's next generation of footballers and football enthusiasts. China is one of the pilot projects for this new FIFA initiative, and the commitment of the Chinese Football Association (CFA) has ensured that it is already proving a triumph for all concerned.

The speed with which the CFA moved to take the lead in implementing the programme certainly impressed everyone at FIFA, as did the initiative shown by the association in acquiring co-operation and support from government and private sponsors. The commitment from all sides was evident from the outset, with the Chinese government backing a $6 million grassroots investment this year alone and sponsors responding with significant value in kind contributions. 

What this has ensured is that, following successful grassroots festivals and tournament in two city locations, the programme has been rolled out no fewer than 44 cities, with a staggering 1 million children taking part. In shifting their focus from an elite grassroots programme to a more comprehensive scheme, the CFA have also established a grassroots committee in which the country’s education and sports ministries are both represented.

FIFA, of course, will continue to play its part, providing technical advice and educational courses for coaches and other key players in China’s football scene. For now, however, world football’s governing body is keen to see the Chinese themselves take the plaudits as they become the second recipients of the FIFA Development Award, succeeding inaugural winners Palestine.