BEIJING: China’s Under-20 team will play matches in the fourth tier of German football this season as part of a drive to ramp up the fortunes of the much-maligned national side.
However, three teams in Germany have refused to face the Chinese with one club claiming it’s a just a blatant commercial gesture.
China’s Communist government, led by football fan President Xi Jinping, is throwing money at the sport in the hope of ending years of national underachievement.
Xi wants China to host and challenge for the World Cup one day, but before that Chinese football bosses are targeting success at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.
As part of the all-out effort, Chinese football authorities have been forging links with reigning world champions Germany and on Wednesday said the Under-20 side will compete in the regionalised German fourth tier.
“For the Chinese men’s Under-20 team to be able to train in Germany and to compete in the Regionalliga Suedwest, it’s an important opportunity for Chinese football to learn from German football,” the Chinese national side said in a statement.
The statement was issued after the Chinese and German football associations signed an agreement in Beijing.
The state-owned China News said the Chinese side’s results will not count in the league placings.
The Under-20 team will begin playing in the second half of the season, from January onwards, according to a report by German sports news agency SID, an AFP subsidiary.
China’s senior national team has long been an embarrassment to the country and are currently ranked down in 77th in the FIFA world rankings — between Sierra Leone and Qatar.
News of the deal has not met with universal approval in Germany.
Of the 19 teams in the league concerned, 16 have given the green light to the project, but Mannheim, TuS Koblenz and Stuttgarter Kickers have said ‘no’.
Mannheim opted out because they want their players to rest, Koblenz have declined after a fans protest, while Kickers would only take part if the whole league was involved.
“The main reason was there was no real concept behind the project and no sporting value for the participating clubs, nor could any assessment be made as to the standard of the Chinese team,” said Koblenz in a statement.
And as the club’s president Arnd Gelhard commented, it raises the question “where does the commercialization of football have its limit?”