China requires naturalized players to learn party history

BEIJING — Want to play football as a naturalized Chinese citizen? Better brush up on your Communist Party history.

New guidelines issued by the Chinese Football Association say naturalized players must learn the history and basic theories, in addition to China's national anthem, flag, symbols, national conditions and Chinese culture.

A Chinese-language learning plan must also be submitted and a monthly report on the players' progress in all fields submitted to the CFA each month. The edict was issued on Friday with immediate effect.

China is recruiting foreign players of Chinese background in a bid to raise playing standards in the domestic league and internationally, where China's men have been perennial underperformers.

Among those taking up the offer are Norway's Chinese-born Hou Yongyong, who now plays for Beijing Guoan and Nico Yennaris, who came up through the Arsenal youth program.

China has sought to raise standards in its professional leagues by recruiting foreign talent with offers of gaudily high salaries. Yet that has had little effect on the performance of the men's national team, which is currently ranked 72 in the world by FIFA. Xi Jinping, China's president and head of the ruling Communist Party, has made turning China into a global football power a national priority, ordering a massive expansion of youth training programs starting at the kindergarten level.

The requirement to become proficient in party lore also reflects Xi's drive to strengthen the party's grip on all sectors of society, from multinational corporations to universities and the world of the arts and sports.

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