Basketball is already one of the most popular sports in China and as football becomes more popular, investors are turning China into a football superpower.
The Sichuan Killer Whales
One of the great sporting surprises in 2015 was the rise of the curiously named Sichuan Blue Whales in the Chinese Basketball Association. The Blue Whales hold the dubious honor of being the only fully professional sports team left in Chengdu since the demise of The Chengdu Blades football team.
The Blue Whales, who despite being a long way from any body of water that Whales might call home take their name from a tobacco company owned by their sponsors, have only played in the top division of the CBA since 2014 but in that short time they have gone from also rans to comfortable play off contenders. With a handful of notable foreign players coupled with the unique atmosphere at games it is a great evening out. Games are played at Sichuan Gymnasium with the playoffs started on the 6th February.
Is China taking over football?
In 2015 Chinese president Xi Jinping has made no secret of the fact that he would like to see China match its success in Olympic and Paralympic competition by becoming a football superpower, a goal that has sof ar frustrated Chinese fans. Now as we move into 2016 in just 12 short months a lot of that vision is starting to turn into reality.
Chinese investors have bought stakes in European clubs like Atletico Madrid, Espanyol and Slavia Prague, as well as a 13% holding in City Football Group for 3.65 billion RMB, which includes Manchester City, over the past 12 months.
But money has also flowed into the domestic game, with high-profile names such as former England manager Sven-Goran Eriksson, ex-Italy manager Marcello Lippi and former Brazil boss Luiz Felipe Scolari being tempted to the Chinese Super League.
They have been joined by players such as Ghana striker Asamoah Gyan, former Arsenal forward Gervinho and Brazil midfielder Ramires.
With a bid to host the World Cup expected in 2026, football is on a steep upward curve, a development that can be tracked in everything from the value of broadcasting rights to the number of teams making pre-season visits.
The Chengdu International Football League (CIFL)
The CFIL is the main football outlet for foreigners in Chengdu. Since 2011 it has been offering regular competitive football. Every Saturday during the season upwards of 250 footballers from over 40 countries converge to play their league matches.
This season major changes took place with the league changing location for the first time in three years and expanding to include more local teams. The introduction of the local teams added to the International feel of the tournament and also strengthened the leagues ties to the local communities and the league’s mission statement of fun, friendship and football.
In what seems to be becoming a tradition the league went down to the last day of the season once again with three teams playing games knowing that they had a chance of winning the coveted title. In the end it was Deportivo Paname who finally came out Champions. This handed them their first championship after nine seasons in which they always seemed to come close but ultimately came upshort.
In winning the Championship, Deportivo Paname became the fifth different winners in five seasons, which is a great indicator of the competitiveness of the league. Individual honors all went the way of Ray Mulahof Deportivo Paname who scooped the Player of the Season, Top Goalscorer and League MVP awards.
The new season will be arriving shortly after Chinese New Year so If you are interested in finding or starting a team then please email firstname.lastname@example.org or call/text 15881048205
The Chengdu Sunbirds
Football is not just a man’s sport in Chengdu. For the last three years the girls of the Chengdu Sunbirds have been showing there is an equal amount of talent on the female side.
The Sunbirds are team made up of women from all around the world who love or want to try football. Taking their name from the city’s iconic Golden Sunbird that is proudly displayed all over the Chengdu they also do the city proud outside of it’s boundaries. In June they travelled to Chongqing to play in a mini tournament with two other International women’s teams and returned with a very respectable record of one win and one loss.
The Sunbirds are constantly recruiting new players and social members of the group so why not join them for their Wednesday practices which take place at Sichuan University East Gate pitch from 7pm or call/text 1388010064.
By David Nicholson