Football superstar David Beckham has been named an ambassador for the Chinese Super League, the country’s football association said, a move that has been widely anticipated but also criticised.
The former England captain will visit three times during the season from March to November to promote the sport in China and attract the global spotlight, the China Football Association said in a statement.
“Beckham will come to China to promote youth football and serve as ambassador to the Chinese Super League (CSL),” it said, touting the athlete’s success in boosting the popularity of the sport worldwide.
“His arrival will bring international attention to Chinese football and at the same time his personal involvement will be a good way to make Chinese football more international.”
State media, however, cast doubt on whether Beckham – currently with French club Paris Saint-Germain – could repair the image of a sport scarred by match-fixing and bribery scandals.
A three-year inquiry resulted last month in 33 people receiving lifetime bans and the former club of Didier Drogba, Shanghai Shenhua, being stripped of its 2003 league title.
The arrival last year of the Ivory Coast striker along with Nicolas Anelka, his former team-mate at English Premier League side Chelsea, signalled to some observers that Chinese football had turned a corner.
But both players have since left Shenhua, with Drogba going to Turkish league leaders Galatasaray in disputed circumstances and Anelka signing for Juventus on loan.
When news of Beckham’s appointment began to circulate last month, the People’s Daily online said the departure of two international stars had already hurt CSL’s reputation and “even Beckham would not heal the damage”.
“While spending loads of money hiring international stars like Beckham, the CSL should make efforts to improve the quality of its ‘products’,” it said.
“Without a truly favourable environment and high-calibre professional clubs, more foreign stars are likely to leave like Drogba and Anelka did.”