Huang Bowen of China celebrates scoring against Qatar (STR/AFP/Getty Images)

(WFI) China has launched ambitious plans to become a “football superpower” by 2050.

Not content with staging the 2022 Winter Olympics and trying to inspire 300 million people into winter sports as part of the Games legacy, it is making a big push to grow the sport of football.

To realize these plans, it aims to build 20,000 football training centres and install or renovate 70,000 pitches. One goal is to bring 50 million children and adults into the game by 2020, with objectives also set out for 2030 and 2050. These include revitalizing youth initiatives and making football a bigger part of the education programs at primary and secondary schools.

The government has not disclosed how many millions of dollars it plans to invest in the wide-ranging project. But president Xi Jinping has made no secret of his desire to make China successful on the world football stage, and has reportedly made this goal a top priority.

The government is clearly keen to capitalize on the massive growth in the Chinese football market. The Chinese Super League spent a staggering $300 million-plus in the winter transfer window, topping spending by English Premier League clubs for the first time.

The Chinese Football Association laid out its plans on Monday, part of the country’s efforts to vastly improve its men’s and women’s national football teams; the men have only ever qualified for the 2002 World Cup.

The national men’s team is world-ranked 81st by FIFA. In recent years, the government has attempted to crack down on match-fixing, which has blighted the game in China. More than two dozen players and officials have been banned for corruption.

According to the Chinese football federation’s plans, quoted by the Associated Press, it aims to “strive to realize the goal of becoming a first-rate major footballing power, realize the all-around development of Chinese football, fulfill the football dream of the sons and daughters of China, and fulfill our obligations to world football”.

Last month, Chinese conglomerate Wanda signed up to become a top-tier FIFA sponsor through the 2030 World Cup.

The deal may pave the way for a Chinese bid for the 2030 edition of FIFA’s flagship tournament.

“As a partner of FIFA, Wanda will be better placed to play a role in the bidding process to host major football events such as the World Cup, closing the gap on international football and enabling Chinese football to have a say in international football,” Wanda said after signing the sponsorship agreement.

By INSIDER Mark Bisson

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