Don't blame kids for China's sporting failure

Updated: 2011-10-26 17:45

By Lee Hannon (

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Bill Shankly, one of the world's most famous football club managers, once said: "Some people believe football is a matter of life and death… I can assure you it is much, much more important than that."

He may have died in 1981, but if was still alive he would totally understand the intense debate taking place in China today.

But with one exception, why blame the kids?

China's problems with football started long before two small primary schools in Beijing naively played host to an elite Russian side. This was never going to be an equal match and Beijing Ditan primary school should have never agreed to play as it was destined to end in defeat.

Dynamo is an elite sporting academy in Russia where the region's best soccer players go to enhance their skills in something similar to a college scholarship. These child players are probably Russia's future national team players who undergo intense training. It was unfair, immoral and stupid to expect a few kids from two small schools in Beijing to win over this team.

It would be similar to inviting the youth academy players of Manchester United or AC Milan to play a school side of paraplegics. Or challenging a pensioner who has smoked his whole life to race Liu Xiang.

People are missing the point. The kids of Ditan and South Lake East Park have been failed again and again. First by a system that chooses textbooks over sporting success. Second, by their parents who believe grades matter more than anything else in the world. Third, by the school who unknowingly put the kids through the humiliation of facing this formidable side. But lastly and more unforgivably, by the army of online commentators who mocked their loss as a sign of China's sporting failure. Shame on you all.

Yes, China has big problems when it comes to football and sports in general. As an Englishman, I feel your pain in not qualifying for the World Cup. I shudder at the scandal-plagued league that is awash with bribery.

But don't for one second think sporting academies are the answer to China's sporting pain or that you'll ever remove corruption from the beautiful game.

Every football club in the US, UK and Russia has them offering to fulfill the dreams of generations of young men. But the reality for most that turn up with their boots and pay a wad of cash is that they're simply not good enough to make it in a sea of available talent. The failure and rejection of not realizing their soccer dreams stays with them for years, sometimes longer. And it is only then they pick back up the textbooks they abandoned and try to get their life back on track.