May
08
2008
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Liu Ailing

In recent years, the number of girls enrolled at Chinese football academies has dropped by two-thirds to just 50, prompting Chinese news agency Xinhua to warn that the foundations of the women’s game in the world’s most populous country are on shaky ground. Even Yangpu, a district in “city of football” Shanghai, is currently attracting fewer than 10 newcomers per year. Last year, former Chinese international Liu Ailing, who is now an ambassador for the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, also had no option but to close the only girls’ academy in the Chinese capital. “Fewer and fewer parents are sending their daughters to football academies,” explains Wang Jianding from Wuhan, a city that actually has plans for several such schools. “Chinese schoolgirls seldom play football. They have too much choice. They prefer to learn a musical instrument or take singing lessons instead. When it comes to sport, they prefer table tennis and swimming. Parents generally say no if their daughters show an interest in football or any other team sport.” Wen Lirong, a former Chinese international defender, now works in the women’s football department of the Chinese Football Association (CFA). “I am worried about the state of youth development work in Chinese women’s football,” she says, while admitting that there is little incentive for Chinese players to turn professional as most women’s footballers experience financial difficulties.