China turn to martial arts to revitalise the beautiful game

BEIJING: China have once again failed to qualify for the World Cup, but 40-something businessman Kong Debao thinks he has a way to revitalise the “beautiful game” – he has created kungfu football.

By infusing the sport with graceful martial arts moves, Kong believes he can help the national team improve their speed and agility.

“The standard of football in China is really low. When we watch it, we worry,” Kong, a native of northeast China, said.

“I asked myself how I could find a way to remedy this sad state of affairs, and so I created kungfu football. I’m committed to it body and soul.”

After two years of setbacks, Kong finally found a martial arts school in the suburbs of Beijing that agreed to start a kungfu football class this year.

In China, such schools are highly respected, and offer students both traditional academic courses and martial arts training from a very early age.

The 30 young people training at the school say they are proud to be part of creating a new sport.

“I’ve always played football and I recently started to do kungfu. With this, the two are combined,” explains 17-year-old student Xu Jiawei, adding he was distraught at the national team’s repeated poor showings.

“Kungfu is a national treasure in China, but football is not really our strong point.”

During a recent training session, students performed all sorts of acrobatic moves with the ball – some kind of a cross between David Beckham and Jackie Chan.

For the time being, the class mainly struts its stuff in shows – not on a real pitch – to build interest in the sport.

“We do moves that professional footballers cannot do,” Xu said.

“We’re adding moves that are more beautiful to watch, which suggests that they are also more difficult,” he added, noting he plans to watch the World Cup broadcasts from South Africa – if he can find the time between his classes.

Kong’s goal is to one day see a full-on kungfu football match, with well-trained players putting on quite a show.

“We’ll pay lots of attention to those who are physically and mentally strong, and ready for this training,” he said.

“In the future, we hope to make this a more international phenomenon. One day, we could even play against strong foreign teams,” he said, noting all regular rules of the game are respected by the kungfu players.

The sport’s governing body has so far remained silent on the new sport, but it has much bigger issues at stake.

Chinese football is mired in a massive corruption scandal that has seen the former association chief and vice chief charged with bribe-taking and match-fixing, and scores of officials questioned by police.

Two top Chinese football clubs have been fined and relegated for paying bribes, while a second-tier club has been stripped of its right to field a team.

China made their only appearance in the World Cup Finals in 2002, when the tournament was co-hosted by Japan and South Korea. — AFP

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