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Mike Pfister: China must run football business as a corporation

By Simon Harding 11 Jul 2016

(FIFA’s Asian Senior Development Officer Mike Pfister)

The World football Forum is an opportunity to assess how football is developing and advancing in the world. The world’s most powerful federations and footballing organisations attended the event in Paris to see the updates over the past year. The world’s most popular sport has been shaken by recent scandals involving FIFA, but despite that, footballing’s main organisation is turning their attention east, towards China and the amazing opportunity it offers. Yutang Sports reporter Simon Harding interviewed FIFA’s Asian Senior Development Officer Mike Pfister regarding their projects for China.

The first thing we wanted to find out was what FIFA did in China to develop football effectively.

 “Well first of all we have a broad range of services that we use for football development, developing football is very complex, we work on the technical side mentoring coaches, technical directors and we help federations build their women’s football programs for example; so that’s a very important part the pure football side. But then everything that is around football as well. So helping on the marketing side, helping with administration and building capacity, making sure they use their resources efficiently. China’s challenge is that they are becoming an independent agency, and they have to basically run their business as a corporation now which gives them more freedom but they must get their act together and must ensure they deliver to a whole set of targets and FIFA monitors closely on that aspect.”

Mr Pfister said that one of the greatest challenges to developing Chinese football was to spread the sport to the western regions of the country and that a lack of infrastructure wasn’t necessarily the problem.

“What we need to do is avoid using infrastructure as an excuse. In China the problem is the access to infrastructure, when these regional associations become independent they still need the access to the same infrastructure that they had before when they were part of the governmental structure. Now that they don’t have those guarantees anymore then you have a deadlock, and that is when the government instead of just investing money needs to get their policies right.”

Yutang Sports then asked Mr Pfister what advice he would give to the Chinese Football Association to develop football even more.

“The Chinese commercial might of football is concentrated on the coastal areas. I think they need to use the revenue generated from that and invest it westward, that would be a good reform in very broad terms. What you need to make sure is that the governments at a provincial level work very closely with the federation and build up smaller federations, their capacity and their revenue, so that they can work with the government and be good business partners, once you have that in place then football can develop. So it’s really help developing the capacity of these smaller federations which from a Beijing perspective are very remote.”

Mr Pfister clearly emphasized the fact that there needed to be work done to develop a fan base, increase the amount of people playing football and have those ‘technical’ factors accompanied by large scale institutional reforms that would allow football to develop successfully, but where did FIFA draw the line when it came to deciding which aid was best: technical or financial?

“I think they go hand in hand, it’s clear that when you don’t have financial support then how are you going to sponsor your activities? so they go hand in hand and I don’t think that you can draw a line. However what you need to do is, well for the investors who will of course have an economic motive for investing, they should not forget that at the end of the day it’s about football development. What you don’t want is football to become an elitist sport only for the glamorous side of society and football needs to stay where it’s most powerful and that’s with the masses."

Is this the case in China that it could become elitist?

"No, I don’t think so, but there is a risk of course. When there is so much money involved and if it doesn’t spread down to the little communities then you have this dichotomy that will be created. It’s not here, but there is a risk, and the Chinese federation really needs to be aware of that. I think that the inclusiveness of football is a message that we hit on every day when we talk to the federation and they are doing a fantastic job, a concrete example is that they have just launched the football for all department which is really going beyond the Chinese Super League and basically the big football hubs and really going into amateur football and developing the grassroots. I think that one of our main objectives is to increase the fan base and people involved in football, that’s one of the top priorities for FIFA o increase a global fan base.”

Mr Pfister was very enthusiastic concerning the future possibilities of Chinese football, but Yutang Sports wanted to be sure whether he thought football was one of the main sports in China.

“I would say it probably is one of the main sports, I do think so, the one thing that would probably give an additional boost is the national team performance, that’s also and unfortunately… well I think the work of a federation is hardly ever managed on how efficiently they run the federation but they are judged on how the national team performs. So right now they are in the last stage of the Asian Football Confederation qualifications for the world cup, so a lot of it depends on how the team performs. At club level they are doing all right, they are doing very well in fact and I think that is food for development, but you definitely need to see a good performance at the national team level, at least for them to represent you Internationally.

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