A Sichuan Province primary school soccer team made up of “left-behind” children took second place in a national indoor soccer competition in January, winning themselves the respect of their peers and chances at a better education.
“Playing soccer has brought many changes to these left-behind children in the past three or four years. They have become much more outgoing and talk more with their teachers,” said Yingxin Village Primary School headmaster Gao Xiaoqing.
Pride of the school
The school in Anzhou district, Mianyang was runner up in the national “Hua Yang Nian Hua” football tournament held in Chongqing Municipality, besting all but one of the 24 teams from six provinces that competed in January, the Chengdu Business Daily reported.
The soccer team has since become the pride of the school, according to Chengdu Business Daily on March 30.
“As early as 2007, our team achieved some victories in county-level matches,” Gao said, the Beijing Youth Daily reported.
But the devastating earthquake in Wenchuan, Sichuan in 2008 stalled the development of the team, and it wasn't until 2013 that the soccer team was finally rebuilt.
“I was born in a rural area and grew up here. I hope the children can learn to be strong, no matter how bad their living conditions are,” Ma Shunxi, the team's coach, was quoted as saying by the Chengdu Business Daily.
Since the team has no funding, Ma paid for some soccer balls out of his pocket, and the team has to train on a concrete floor and use bricks as goalposts.
But despite such hardship, the team won several soccer championships at the district and city level before their success on the national stage.
“We really want to have grass pitch, so that the children get hurt less and the parents will trust us more,” Ma added.
Yinxing village is isolated and has just 14,000 residents. Yingxin Village Primary School, the only one in the area, is surrounded by farms. Of its 328 students, more than 70 percent are left-behind children whose parents have gone to other places for work.
According to Gao, many children in Yingxin Village Primary School are introverted and have an inferiority complex, and therefore have difficulty communicating with others. “Playing soccer can make them outgoing, more so than playing with their mobile phones,” Gao said.
About 20.19 million left-behind children attended rural primary and junior high schools in 2015, down from 20.75 million in 2014, according to an annual education ministry report in July 2016, according to the Xinhua News Agency.
Not allowed to turn pro
“I would like to play for the national team in the future, but first I must enter a qualified high school,” Shang Guolin said.
The players have won the chance at further education through their victories on the pitch.
Li Yi, team captain, and Shang Guolin, who was declared the most valuable player in the “Hua Yang Nian Hua” tournament, have attracted the attention of Mianyang's most famous high school.
However, Shang Guolin's father Shang Feng does not want his son to go to this school, even though it has better academic and sports facilities.
Shang Feng says he is worried about if his son would be safe living alone in Mianyang, and also cites the difficulty the family would have in paying for his living expenses.
“For rural children, playing soccer should only be a hobby, which I will support. Neither our finances or the school's condition will allow them to be a professional player,” Shang Feng said.
Shang Guolin's idol is Cristiano Ronaldo. He says he is luckier than Ronaldo, because he gets to train on a concrete floor while Ronaldo could only play football on the street as a child.
The Ministry of Education announced that it will raise the number of schools “characterized by an emphasis on soccer” to 20,000 by the end of this year and to 50,000 by 2025. It also pledged to establish around 200 college soccer teams in the future, according to Xinhua.
China unveiled an ambitious blueprint in 2016 to get 50 million children and adults playing soccer by the end of this decade with the ultimate goal of becoming a “world soccer power” by 2050, said Xinhua. 16,000 school principals, PE teachers, campus coaches and referees have received training and 115 foreign soccer coaches were hired by Chinese schools in 2016.
Meanwhile, 44 regional football associations organized amateur league games in 2016 and about 400,000 players from 30,000 teams took part in the competitions.