David Beckham Kicks Off China Tour
Soccer superstar David Beckham arrived in Beijing on Wednesday to begin his new role as the sport's official ambassador to China.
As part of his new gig, announced in February, the 37-year-old will attend league matches in China, make numerous high-profile appearances and visit local sports clubs to try to promote his game to the nation’s youth.
"I am helping in the education for young kids and young aspiring footballers," he said at a press conference in the Chinese capital.
Beckham will balance his ambassadorial duties with his on-field responsibilities playing as a midfielder for Paris Saint-Germain.
"It's as simple as that. I am not here to clear up anything. I am here to educate the children and give them a chance of becoming professional footballers," he went on, perhaps trying to make clear that doesn’t want his visit to have any of the sports diplomacy overtones of Dennis Rodman’s bizarre, and much-hyped recent trip to North Korea.
Although he’s undoubtedly the soccer player with the world’s most celebrity star-wattage, Beckham will indeed have his work cut out for him. The popularity of soccer is slim in China, where basketball has made major headway, thanks to the cult-like celebrity of Chinese star Yao Ming and Taiwanese-American player Jeremy Lin. Less than 100,000 of China’s 1.3 billion population are said to play soccer.
Beckham’s visit also comes at a crucial time for the Chinese Football League, which is still trying to recover from a match-fixing scandal that resulted in 33 players and officials being banned from the game for life in February. Two of the league’s ex-heads were also jailed, along with its lead referee, for accepting bribes and attempting to rig games.
During his first four-day visit this week, Beckham will swing through Beijing, Qingdao and Wuhan.