UK & World News
David Beckham: China Tour Will Boost Game
David Beckham has arrived in Beijing as China's first global football ambassador.
The Paris Saint-Germain midfielder, who is as big a star here as he is anywhere else, is spending four days on a whistle-stop tour across the country.
Beckham's role will involve helping to promote the Chinese Super League (CSL) to the world, raising the profile of the game within China itself and to restore its image after recent match-fixing scandals.
The star said: "This is a significant year in Chinese football history as we usher in 20 years of developing this sport professionally and mark the 10-year milestone of the Chinese Super League - which today reaches 300 million television viewers and 4.49 million spectators annually."
Beckham arrived to an unusual scene in the Chinese capital: thick snow and blue skies with no hint of the smog that has blanketed the city for so many days this year.
Day one of his trip included visits to two schools in the city as well as a kick-around with children. He hosted a news conference at one of the schools explaining his motivation for the visit.
Professional football in China is celebrating its 20th anniversary. Nicolas Anelka and Didier Drogba and coaches Marcello Lippi and Sergio Batista are among the high profile names to move to China. Drogba and Anelka lasted just one season.
However, the game in China has been tainted by corruption. The Chinese Football Association found 58 people guilty of involvement in match fixing.
Beckham will spend two days in Beijing visiting the Workers Stadium, home to Beijing Guo'an Football Club. He will meet players and fans and tour the stadium.
He will then travel south to the coastal city of Qingdao, home to Qingdao Jonoon Football Club. His visit there will follow the same format as the Beijing leg: visiting schools and promoting the game at the grassroots level.
From Qingdao he will fly to the central Chinese city of Wuhan, the home of Wuhan Zall Football Club.
"The guy is a huge, huge brand. To say that the trip isn't some sort of publicity stunt would be a very, very silly thing to say," Pete Davis, China Correspondent for Goal Asia, told Sky News.
"Having said that, Chinese football does need the boost that Beckham can provide and it can only be good, I think. Him coming over is not going to create a massive improvement in terms of grassroots football ... but Beckham can brand the league and bring the right kind of notoriety to it," he said.
Late last year, before his move to Paris, there was significant speculation that Beckham might sign with a Chinese team. Pete Davis believes there is still a chance he could move there.
"His contract with Paris Saint-Germain is only five months long - that nicely coincides with the middle of the Chinese season when Chinese teams are allowed to sign people, so it may be that we see him for a short six-month spell like we did Drogba and Anelka and in that time he may be able to work wonders. We don't know yet," he said.
Officials at all levels, including the new President Xi Jinping - said to be a big football fan - are hoping that Brand Beckham will significantly boost the game and clean up its image.
"Corruption has tarnished the image of Chinese football but what happened was 10 years ago," continued Mr Davis.
"The goalkeeper of Shanghai Shenhua is a highly rated guy called Wang Dalei and he would have been 14 years old when this match fixing happened. Yes it's current news, but actually it's old news in terms of Chinese football. It's just that the punishment has only just occurred."
Beckham is being paid for the trip - it's not clear who the funding is coming from. His management company IMG said that it was not a significant amount.
"This is not about money, this is about a guy that loves football," Jeff Slack, IMG's vice president is quoted by the South China Morning Post as saying.
The newspaper claimed that he was being paid by Chinese Central Television (CCTV) which is giving significant coverage to the trip.
Victoria Beckham is not accompanying her husband. Her previous visits to the country, though, have generated significant interest.
"She came all the way through China and she developed quite a large following and had some very nice things to say about Chinese girls and their fashion sense and that is a whole different way of looking at it." said Mr Davis.
"It can be good for both of them to get involved in China. It's a huge market with a lot of money involved and if Victoria and David can benefit from it then what's the harm in a six-month stay here," he added.
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