Getting the ball rolling

Updated 2018-01-24 14:24:02 China Daily

The inaugural WEsport Athletic ID Camp-Soccer is launched on Tuesday in Beijing, offering young Chinese players the opportunity to expand their horizons in the US university sports system.

New scheme helps Chinese kids pursue their goals of glory inU.S.

Europe has traditionally been the promised land for Chinese kids who dream of making it big in soccer.

Now, however, the United States is a viable alternative thanks to a new initiative from Chinese company WEsport.

The Beijing-based sports management agency on Tuesday launched the WEsport Athletic ID Camp-Soccer, which will offer Chinese soccer hopefuls the chance to win scholarships to American universities.

WEsport plans to open at least another eight camps around the country by the end of this year.

The scheme has been developed in conjunction with the NCAA-certified FirstPoint U.S.A, which specializes in American sports scholarships, and England-based global sports education institution the University College of Football Business (UCFB).

"Below the one super-talented kid at the top, there are countless other athletes who are also talented but have no chance of reaching the top, so they need other choices," said Lee Taozhi, founder and CEO of WEsport.

"Europe's scholarship places are limited and can't accommodate all of our young players. Although soccer leagues in America are not as competitive as those in Europe, the U.S. has more resources and scholarships for our players."

Toby Loveridge, of First-Point USA, concurred.

"Europe is a smaller market in terms of where Chinese players can go," he said.

"You cannot go just anywhere in the world to play and study and get scholarships to cover that. That is why we believe the U.S. is a good alternative."

Youngsters at the camp are keen to grab what they see as a golden opportunity.

"I need to face the reality that Europe is not a place that I can reach," said player Liu Yongchao.

"They have extremely high requirements. The U.S., on the other hand, has lower qualifications that we can manage."

With China bidding to transform itself into a soccer superpower, former Chinese national team star Shao Jiayi has stressed the need for the country's young talent to go abroad.

"There's no doubt that playing in the more competitive top leagues improves a player's technique," said Shao, who was the last Chinese player to score in one of the world's top soccer leagues-in 2008, for then-Bundesliga outfit Energie Cottbus.

"Playing against strong opponents, communicating with top coaches and working with more professional clubs takes players to the next level.

"From the psychological perspective, playing outside China will improve our understanding of the game and increase our confidence."

Beyond sports

Apart from cultivating soccer skills, the camp also aims to prepare students for a life beyond sports should they not make it professionally.

"If players get NCAA scholarships, it means they also have to take care of their academic life," said Lee.

"We also want them to learn more beyond soccer to have more choices if they cannot become professional players.

"They can be coaches, managers ... even sports journalists. That's also why we want to send them to universities in the U.S.."

Jin Xianzhe, another young player at the camp, echoed Lee's vision.

"I might not become a professional player, but I would like to become a soccer manager," said Jin.

"I want to learn soccer management skills in the developed sports industry of the U.S."

Miranda Shi, from UCFB, acknowledged that Chinese parents often fear playing soccer might hamper their children's development in other areas.

"There has been a negative stereotype about athletes in China-that only those who cannot achieve high academically will go into sports," said Shi.

"That is also the reason why lots of parents would not allow their children to play soccer. We want to change that."

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