About 10 days after China's National Men's Soccer Team lost to Vietnam on Feb. 1, the first day of the Chinese New Year, the Chinese Football Association imposed a new salary cap on the country's top-earning footballers, stipulating that the maximum annual salary of 5 million yuan (US$779,000) would be further lowered to 3 million yuan before tax.
The move, some hope, will work as a punishment for the ill-performing players and push them to reflect on their faults and train harder.
In contrast, the Chinese women's soccer team, who earned much less than the male players, won the AFC Women's Asian Cup title for the ninth time within a 16-year span, and achieved the victory just a few days after the men's insulting defeat.
This makes people wonder: Why can't we find 11 out of 1.4 billion who can do the job? Why do women outperform men in Chinese soccer?
To be honest, men's soccer and women's soccer work on different systems and mindsets in China. While men's soccer is trying to build itself into a commercial market-oriented game, women's soccer has little influence on the society and depends on the hard work and passion of women and coaches who love this game. Less competitive and supposedly not as spectacular on the pitch as played by men, women's soccer worldwide has a much smaller fanbase and revenues from tickets, broadcasting rights and endorsements.
The theory is, if capital and investment pour into a certain industry, it will start a boom. This didn't seem to work out for Chinese men's soccer, which is understandable because we lack talents in this field, and it takes time to train talents. More importantly, every successful sport has a huge fanbase and has people avidly training in the sport from their early childhood.
In Iceland with a population of 335,000, there is a football field for every 1,000 people and there's a standard pitch where matches can be played for every 2,000. While in China, the official plan for 2025 is for every 11,111 people to have a pitch. It's a common scene in European nations to see a group of young people run to the community soccer fields after work, which is rather rare in China.
When you look at table tennis, on the other hand, where Chinese players reign in the world and competition is fierce at the domestic level, things are totally different. There are even ping pong tables downstairs at my home and kids play the game after school every day.
It's also true that not many Chinese parents encourage their kids to participate in soccer, which requires hard work and teamwork to excel and lacks the stardom of successful players in individual sports.
While the United States embraces basketball, American football, baseball and ice hockey, European countries embrace football. The time and energy of people in a certain country are limited, and it's just impossible for every sport to thrive in a market with limited resources. China is already very strong in table tennis, badminton, women's volleyball, and many individual sports, it is also improving in men's basketball, so who says we need to excel in everything?
Although, with continuous attention and efforts invested in it, we have reason to believe that Chinese soccer will gradually improve.
(The author is a Features Department editor of Shenzhen Daily.)