Football superstar David Beckham arrived in China on Wednesday to begin a five-day visit of the country as part of his role as ambassador for the Chinese Super League (CSL) and the Youth Football Program in China.
Speaking from Beijing, Beckham stressed his interest in promoting the game to Chinese youth during his trip, saying, "I am very proud to be here as the ambassador for the Chinese Super League and have a chance to help the children in China who love football…. Children are the future. I want to do everything possible to help children in China to become professional footballers one day.”
Beckham’s trip comes amid the CSL’s campaign to rebuild football’s reputation in China after the sport has been tainted by corruption and match-fixing scandals involving many players and soccer officials in recent years.
Last July, Nan Yong and Xie Yalong, two former heads of the Chinese Football Association, were among eleven people sentenced for taking bribes. Each received a sentence of over ten years in prison.
The scandals in China mirror similar incidents in football leagues around the world.
Beckham told reporters on Wednesday that his trip was unrelated to the scandals.
“I’m not here to clean up anything. I’m here to educate the children and give them a chance to become professional footballers,” Beckham said outside a Beijing primary school.
Still, in recent years the CSL has been aggressively seeking out international renowned players and coaches to play in China as part of its efforts to rebuild the game’s reputation. Beckham himself was rumored to be considering joining a Chinese football team before he signed a short-term contract with the Paris Saint-Germain club in January.
Although currently only a paid ambassador for the game, Beckham will play an exhibition match in China in November. Furthermore, in talking to reporters in Beijing, the 37-year-old held out the possibility of playing professionally for a Chinese club in the future.
“Who knows? People keep saying that it will be my last club, it will be my last season,” Beckham said. “I continue to play and I love playing, so we’ll see.”
Beckham’s emphasis on inspiring Chinese youth to take up the game is in line with the message of his CSL hosts. According to the Associated Press, the CSL has made increasing youth participation a priority as currently only 8,000 Chinese of all ages participate in local football associations across China.
Beckham will also be visiting the cities of Qingdao and Wuhan while in the country.