China is an extremely patriotic nation. While China’s growing Internet-engaged citizenry is finding its voice to address its various political, social and economic problems, the 1.3-billion-strong country usually comes together when supporting their athletes.
Recently, Chinese sports fans have rallied together concerning their national soccer team. Unfortunately, they have come together under the shared understanding that it's awful. The team’s most recent game on Saturday in the city of Hefei, which was a friendly against Thailand’s team of U21 (under 21-year-old) players, was the nadir of embarrassment for Chinese soccer fans.
Various local media used a number of words to describe the matchup, among them “humiliating,” “embarrassing,” and “shameful.” The Chinese team was “slaughtered,” by the Thai team 1-5. According to the blog Offbeat China, news reports added the game to the long list of historical days of shame for the Chinese national soccer team, not only because the game was on home turf but also because China was fielding its best, while the Thais were limiting themselves to their younger players.
Those who attended the game were understandably upset. But in the true style of soccer hooligans, rogue fans left the stands and headed for the stadium exits, surrounding their own team’s bus after the game, calling the players “pigs” and shouting things like “dissolve the team,” and “fire the coach,” between expletives and other choice words.
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The national team’s loss has been the number one trending topic on Weibo since Sunday, especially since pictures of enraged Chinese fans made waves online. According to the BBC, the protests even got violent with more than 100 people being injured, in addition to several vehicles being damaged.
Some may be surprised by the reaction, considering China’s team has never been really good at soccer, only recently gaining a real fan base over the past two decades or so. The sport is not nearly as lauded as individual sports like ping pong and archery, which Chinese athletes tend to excel in. In China’s short history with soccer, however, it has been riddled with controversy. Match-fixing within China’s Super League, the country’s national league, goes deep within the organization. Everyone from players, to linesmen, to coaches and the front office have been exposed with links to the corruption of the league, and it seems many Chinese fans think the national team is no different.
It wasn’t long until rumors started to fly that the team intentionally threw the game because they were manipulated by gamblers betting against them. Others said the team purposefully floundered on the field to get rid of its unpopular coach, Jose Antonio Camacho. Netizens on Weibo even went as far to make parallels between China’s central government, and the soccer team, both of which continue to fail the nation’s people because of greed.
“[The loss] was caused by the system. Soccer, a completely marketized [sic] game, is controlled by the Chinese Soccer Association, a dictating planned-economy organization… Chinese soccer perfectly mirrors what China is today as a country… It’s huge yet stupid, and will die out sooner or later,” a blogger wrote unabashedly.
In response to an overwhelming amount of criticism, one player on the team apologized to netizens. In response, one blogger wrote, “The only difference between the Chinese national male soccer team and Chinese officials is that the national male soccer team knows to say sorry.”
China has already lost two previous international friendly matches (because they failed to qualify for the 2014 World Cup), 2-0 to the Netherlands and 2-1 to Uzbekistan.