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China sets goal of becoming a soccer superpower by 2050 -

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KIM LANDERS: China has unveiled an ambitious plan to become a soccer "superpower" by 2050.

The President Xi Jinping is a fan, and hopes more Chinese will take up the world game.

And China's Football Association has set a target of 70,000 football pitches in place by 2020.

Brendan Trembath prepared this report.

BRENDAN TREMBATH: Famous for its five year plans to develop the economy, China has now drawn up an even long term plan for soccer.

Tom Byer, a former professional footballer from New York, is helping China in its quest to become a football superpower.

In an interview with the BBC he noted the game already has many fans in the world's most populous nation.

TOM BYER: Football is tremendously popular inside China, whether it's both the national team or whether it's the foreign leagues.

BRENDAN TREMBATH: Watching football is relatively easy - some would argue too easy.

Playing it professionally at the highest levels is notoriously difficult.

TOM BYER: There's 209 member associations in FIFA, of which only eight have ever won a World Cup, and of those eight, four are what I call zero repeaters.

And the other 200 just don't even come close.

BRENDAN TREMBATH: The only time China has qualified for the World Cup was in 2002.

Tom Byer has found that countries that do very well in international competition have a football culture that is very conducive to developing football players.

TOM BYER: And this is part of my work, at least with the Chinese government, with the Ministry of Education, that we're discussing.

BRENDAN TREMBATH: China's President Xi Jinping played football at school in the '50s and '60s. He's on the record saying he wants China to host and win a World Cup.

Kevin Airs, who edits the Australian edition of the soccer magazine 442, calls that "hugely ambitious".

KEVIN AIRS: The competition at the elite level of football is immense, and there are many other factors as well as just the money that's weighing against China to pledge.

BRENDAN TREMBATH: What does it really need to win a World Cup?

KEVIN AIRS: Put it this way, Germany between 2000 and 2010 already an established world super power in football, spent $1 billion on development. That's the kind of level of money that we're talking about and the kind of heritage that you need to win a World Cup.

BRENDAN TREMBATH: So China might need to dip into its huge stockpile of US dollars to achieve this dream?

KEVIN AIRS: Well it's already doing so to be honest. I mean the Chinese super league (inaudible) has unleashed untold amounts of money to bring in overseas stars to try and spice up the super league.

BRENDAN TREMBATH: He says there's talk of some players getting $750,000 a week.

China might have the cash to lure top players, but can it capture the interest of students who might want to play professional football?

Cameron Wilson is the founder of Wild East Football and spoke to the BBC from Shanghai.

CAMERON WILSON: There's an interesting dichotomy in China between the football watching culture and the football playing culture.

And the stadiums now in China are pretty full, the average crowd in the Chinese Super League is around 23,000, which I believe is around about the same as Serie A in Italy.

If you look at the amount of people who play the sport, it's very much less.

BRENDAN TREMBATH: He attributes it mainly to the way Chinese parents raise their children.

CAMERON WILSON: You'll find in the evenings a lot of Chinese kids have got their heads stuck in books and they are doing homework. This is just how it is in China and there's just not a kind of desire to let kids play football for the most part.

BRENDAN TREMBATH: It's one reason why China's men's football team sits in the middle of the FIFA world rankings, below smaller nations such as Haiti and Panama.

KIM LANDERS: Brendan Trembath reporting.