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Populous seals Chinese football infrastructure deal

The architect’s agreement with Alisports could shape the Chinese approach to sports venue design

Published in Sports Management 11 Jul 2016 issue 124
Alex Teixeira is one of the players to have joined a Chinese club in 2016
Alex Teixeira is one of the players to have joined a Chinese club in 2016

Alisports – the sports arm of China-based global trade platform Alibaba – has inked a strategic partnership with Populous as it attempts to build and operate “tens of thousands” of sports venues in China.

Populous has worked in China since 2000, designing sports developments such as the Nanjing Olympic Sports Centre and Zhuhai’s International Tennis Centre in the south of the country.

That work will almost certainly increase as China – and Alisports chief executive Zhang Dazhong – seeks to create a landscape of world-class sporting facilities, encouraging greater participation in sport and “bolstering the global profile of China as a sporting nation”.

Writing in his blog for the architecture studio, Populous’ China chief representative Tiric Chang said the partnership would leverage Alibaba’s online clientele of 470m users and technology development with Populous’ contacts and experience around sports strategy, marketing and events.

“The agreement to partner in this way, and to pursue projects together, has come at a time of change in the Chinese market,” he said. “While general architecture work may have slowed, the demand for specialised sports venue design, catering for professional-level organisations and events, continues to increase.”

He added that the agreement acknowledges that large-scale sports venues are “largely non-existent or long idle” in some Chinese regions.

Chang also revealed, unsurprisingly, that much of the development will revolve around football, highlighting President Xi Jinping’s love of the sport. Jinping has spoken of his desire to see China host, and win, the World Cup in the not too distant future, while clubs in the Chinese Superleague have invested heavily in recognisable foreign football talent to boost the glamour and quality of the domestic competition.

The ambition, said Chang, was a challenge considering the “limited success” China has had on the world football stage to date, although significant steps have been taken to accelerate progress. China has only been to a World Cup once in 2002.

“The Chinese Football Association has been reformed, young talent has been sent abroad to develop skills and international coaches and marquee players brought in to bolster teams in-country,” he said.

“Government officials made international news last year, declaring football a compulsory part of the national curriculum. At the same time, hundreds of millions of dollars are being spent on football infrastructure.”

Chang also highlighted the progress being made on 50,000 football academies – a project which is expected to be completed by 2025.

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