Nike has put together an amusing video portraying the future of Chinese football (see above). “Amusing” both because it’s a fun 90 seconds that brings a smile, but also because it’s complete nonsense.
In the year 2033 — just 15 years from now — China is imagined not just as a global soccer superpower (something the government isn’t actually expecting until 2050), but as the team nobody else wants to face. I’ve been on record many times as saying that I won’t see China win the World Cup in my lifetime, but if I’m wrong it would be a shock of David and Goliath proportions, rather than a stellar line-up of Chinese stars striking fear into all their opponents.
In the video, we see Manchester City signing four Chinese players, prompting a CSL-inspired rule change which restricts each EPL team to just three. City rivals Manchester United tried that once in real life, but striker Dong Fangzhuo 董芳卓 went goalless while appearing in just three competitive matches for United in four years attached to the club. His time there was so miserable that he reportedly had plastic surgery years later in an attempt to hide from his embarrassment.
Fast forward to the scene where kids around the world are selecting teams on their video consoles. I can suspend disbelief enough to allow the fact that CSL teams could be options on FIFA 33, but no self-respecting soccer fan would choose choke-specialists Shanghai SIPG — as the kid in the video does — unless they, too, have a turnaround as dramatic as the national team. Then again, perhaps in a stroke of ironic genius, maybe that’s the point (in which case, full marks, Nike).
Another central theme is the Chinese No. 7, modeled after CR7 himself, Cristiano Ronaldo. C-Luo, as he’s known here, has had an interesting few weeks since being dumped out of the World Cup slightly earlier than he would have hoped. Having signed with Chinese SUV brand Wey in the weeks before the World Cup, he’s since moved to Juventus, so will now — in a huge blow to Wey’s ambitions — almost always be pictured with another SUV brand across his chest, Juve sponsor JEEP.
What’s more, Juventus reportedly sold 520,000 shirts in the first 24 hours after signing Ronaldo. That equates to revenue of about $60 million, the vast majority of which will go to kit manufacture Adidas. Not the best news, then, for another of his main sponsors, Nike, whom Ronaldo was gamely trying to promote in Beijing last week.
One American athlete who’s long since abandoned the lure of Western sports brands in favor of a Chinese alternative is three-time NBA champion Dwyane Wade. After a previous contract with Nike subsidiary Jordan, Wade signed with Li-Ning in 2012 for what was reckoned to be a 10-year deal worth $10 million annually. Wade was wearing Li-Nings the following year when his Miami Heat defended the NBA title, and this month he renewed/extended that deal for life.
If that doesn’t tie him to China for the foreseeable future, then perhaps the reported offer of a three-year, $25 million contract with the Zhejiang Golden Bulls might do so. At 36, Wade is coming to the end of his career in the NBA, where he could — at best — hope for Miami to give him the taxpayer mid-level exception of $5.3 million, still significantly short of what he could get in China, where he could also cash in on off-court deals.
If Wade-to-China sounds like it’s beyond the realms of possibility, it’s not. I first wrote about this more than five years ago, and while it’s far from a done deal at this stage, it wouldn’t be that surprising to see him here, even if he only played for a year.
Since Stephon Marbury retired from the CBA in February, the league has been desperate to replace him with a genuine international star, and despite Wade’s fading skills, he’s still a far, far bigger name than Marbury ever was. If a 40-year-old Manny Ramirez could get coverage back home when he attempted a comeback in Taiwan’s baseball league, Wade could really put the CBA on the global map.
Speaking of Taiwan, the city of Taichung has been stripped of its right to host the 2019 East Asian Youth Games almost four years ago after being awarded the Games, following a China-led intervention at the event’s governing body.
The East Asian Olympic Committee (EAOC) this week held an impromptu vote — reportedly at the urging of EAOC’s Chinese chairman Liu Peng 刘鹏 — during which members from China, Hong Kong, Macau, Mongolia, North Korea, and South Korea all voted to rescind Taichung’s hosting rights, while only the Taiwanese representative voted against, and Japan abstained.
Taiwan has generally played ball when it comes to global sporting competitions, since it’s allowed to compete separately at the Olympics and in international soccer, as long as it uses the name “Chinese Taipei” and flies the appropriate flag.
But a combination of issues appears to have complicated the matter: the current Taiwanese administration is decidedly less pro-Beijing than its predecessor was, perhaps emboldening certain civil groups in Taiwan to push for the name “Taiwan” to replace “Chinese Taipei” at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Additionally, while Beijing has muscled Taiwan almost entirely out of maintaining any official international diplomatic relations, the island has become something of a pawn in U.S.-China relations, not least with the ongoing airline dispute.
Taichung says it plans to appeal the decision, though it’s hard to see it being overturned. Meanwhile, Taiwan’s Presidential Office has called Beijing’s involvement “childish,” though presumably the Taichung city government — which has now wasted $22 million on event planning and venue construction — used slightly stronger language.