Sat, Dec 01, 2018 - Page 16 News List

Chinese soccer players sent to army-style camps

AFP, SHANGHAI

Shanghai Shenhua under-19 players march during a military training drill in Shanghai yesterday.

Photo: AFP

Chinese national soccer squads and a top-league team have packed young players off to military camps for drills and Marxist-style “thought education” as a campaign to promote Chinese Communist Party (CCP) values spreads even into the sporting world.

Chinese fans have watched the militarization of the sport with a mixture of anger and bemusement, after photographs emerged of players getting their hair shaved and throwing themselves bare-chested into the snow.

The Chinese Football Association (CFA) spirited away more than 50 under-25 national squad players in October for several weeks of intensive army drills, swapping their playing boots for combat boots and military fatigues.

The move, underlining desperation to improve the perennially underachieving Chinese national side, was particularly controversial because it meant some of China’s finest young players were not involved in the final games of the league season.

A second batch of players was packed off early last month and this week a national squad of under-19s were to don camouflage and head to the barracks, suggesting that the boot camps might become a fixture.

Chinese Super League (CSL) side Shanghai Shenhua — home last year to Argentine striker Carlos Tevez — followed suit with their under-19 players, combining soccer training with marching and other aspects of an austere military life.

Under the watchful eye of the drillmasters of airforce unit 94778, the young players were subjected on Monday to “thought-education,” the club said on a microblogging platform.

They “examined propaganda materials, visited the unit’s hall of history, soldiers’ barracks and took part in basic military formation drills,” it said.

The Beijing Youth Daily, citing the CFA, said that the camps would “strengthen young players’ ideology.”

However, Chinese soccer fans have accused the CFA of putting politics before sport as it took dozens of domestic players out of action for the critical final few games of the season.

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