SHANGHAI, June 20 (Reuters) - Chinese football ambassador David Beckham drew a line under the country’s shady soccer history on Thursday, saying he hoped to inspire the local children back to the sport.
Appointed in March, shortly before the start of the new Chinese Super League season, the former England captain faces a tough task with local soccer still in a quagmire following the latest in a long line of graft issues.
In February, two former soccer administration heads were handed lifetime bans by the Chinese Football Association for accepting bribes, while Shanghai Shenhua, who made waves by signing former Chelsea strike duo Didier Drogba and Nicolas Anelka, were docked points for matchfixing and stripped of the 2003 title.
“When I first came on as ambassador of the Super League, I was well aware of what has happened in the past, and people question why I wanted to be involved in something that in the past had a bad name or corruption involved,” Beckham told reporters in Shanghai.
“For me, the past is the past, this is the future.”
The graft issues and problems with on-field violence have been blamed for China’s lack of success at international level, with the team qualifying only once for the World Cup in 2002.
Despite his recent retirement in May, the former Manchester United and Real Madrid midfielder remains one of world sport’s most marketable athletes and was already achieving his mandate by attracting fans back, officials said.
“Obviously everyone pays attention to Chinese football, we know that it is going through a rough time, but we are working very, very hard,” Deputy General of the China Super League Zhu He Yuan said.
“We invited David Beckham to inspire kids to participate in the game and to inspire more people to watch the game and from his last two trips we have achieved this goal.”
The ex-Paris St Germain and LA Galaxy midfielder will continue his week long tour with a trip to Hangzhou, a scenic lake town two hours away from Shanghai.
One of England’s wealthiest footballers, Beckham has not revealed how much he is getting paid for his role. (Editing by Patrick Johnston)