In the Chinese rust belt, a global-stage dream — about soccer … – MarketWatch










China’s smog-choked northern province of Hebei is no stranger to lofty goals. For one thing, it has to shut down two-thirds of its steel factories by 2020.

Here comes another: becoming a provincial powerhouse in soccer. Perhaps understandably, it has given itself a few decades to do it.

All the latest China news: China Real Time Report

The “Hebei Province’s Soccer Medium-to-Long Term Development Plan (2016-2050)” unveiled Thursday sets out plans for 1,000 “soccer campuses,” 3,000 amateur leagues and at least one club in the Chinese Super League, the country’s highest tier of professional soccer.

Such plans to pursue the “beautiful game,” as soccer is often called, are quite the departure for China. The world’s second-largest economy used to nurture its sport stars the Soviet way, by picking and grooming its talent from an early age. It still harvests most of its medals using this model. But in soccer, Beijing is trying a looser model perfected in the West: shopping for world-class players world-wide and hoping to spot homegrown talent via a grassroots network of soccer programs in local schools. “By 2050, we must contribute to China’s bid to host the World Cup,” the Hebei Provincial Sports Bureau said.

An expanded version of this report appears at WSJ.com.

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