China’s Olympic Football Team Misses Tokyo 2020

China’s U-23 national football team (source: bjd.com.cn)

With three losses in a row, the Chinese U-23 national team has concluded its journey in the 2020 AFC U-23 Championship. This Chinese team was the worst performing in the tournament, and is the only team that did not score any goals or any points. As this is also the qualification tournament for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, China will again miss the Games.

Other than the 2008 Beijing Olympics, the Chinese U-23 team has not qualified for the Summer Olympics Games since 1992. The team automatically qualified in 2008 as the host, and finished 13th in the tournament, failing to qualify beyond the group stages.

Chinese U-23 teams have suffered from a series of failures since the Beijing Olympics. Similar to their struggling counterparts in the national team, the Chinese U-23 squads have yet to deliver positive results to match the high expectations that are put on them.

In the latest tournament, the Chinese U-23 team concluded its first series with 0 goals while conceding 4 against fellow Asian teams. This Chinese team came very close to shutting out the South Korean and Iranian team in its first and last games of the group stage. However, China conceding a goal to South Korea in the final minutes and a penalty to Iran at the 87th minute.

Officials from the Chinese Football Association are facing larger criticisms questioning the effectiveness of the country’s U23 policies of its top professional league. In order to increase the competitiveness of U23 teams, football clubs that are in the Chinese Super Leagues are required to have players under the age of 23 to play in every game in the domestic league. This policy created a batch of “1-minute players.” They are under the age of 23, they get on the pitch sometime in the game, and they get substituted after one minute or so, to meet the U23 rule.

In 2019, the Chinese Football Association put a salary limit on players who are under the age of 21. Critics argue that the policy will further discourage potential prospects from pursuing a career in football, and will drain the limited number of football players struggling in China.

Chinese football officials attempted several strategies in recent years to promote and improve the results of the team in recent competitions. From sending young players abroad to investing in youth development, these strategies have yet to deliver. According to the Chinese state media Global Times, more than 60% of the public participating in a social media poll believes that Chinese football players are incompetent.

The men’s football team is not the only failure in the upcoming Olympics. The Chinese men’s volleyball team lost its qualification spot to Iran, and in basketball, the Chinese men’s team lost its long-reigning direct qualification spot to the Iranians, the best Asian team in the 2019 FIBA World Cup.

While the Chinese national basketball team may still qualify through an Olympics qualification tournament, the team will need to finish as the champion, awaiting tough challenges from teams such as Canada and Greece. The two teams will likely recruit experienced players from the NBA, including the Canadian national Jamal Murray and the 2019 NBA most valuable player, Greek national Giannis Antetokounmpo. Facing several competitive teams in the qualification tournament, China’s chance of entering the Olympics is significantly harmed.

According to the South China Morning Post, China’s men teams will likely be missing all team sports in the Olympics as the teams in events such as handball and water polo also failed to qualify. In contrast, the Chinese women’s teams are thriving in various sports. China has already qualified for the Olympics in volleyball, rugby sevens, and field hockey. The Chinese women’s volleyball team is also the defending champion, after upsetting the hosting Brazillian team in Rio de Janeiro and eventually claiming the championship title in 2016.

China will be hosting the AFC Cup in 2023. With its national teams struggling in the World Cup qualification tournaments and in the Olympics qualifiers, the country’s future in football remains grim.