Beckham targets big year for China
Former England captain David Beckham says it will be a 'significant year' for China as he begins his role as the country's first global football ambassador.
Beckham, 37, arrived in Beijing on Wednesday for a four-day visit during which he will visit local schools and travel to games in the Chinese league to promote the sport to one of the world's most populous countries.
The Paris Saint Germain midfielder was mobbed by fans and media as he arrived and said: "This is a significant year in Chinese football history as we usher in 20 years of developing this sport professionally and mark the 10-year milestone of the Chinese Super League - which today reaches 300 million television viewers and 4.49 million spectators annually."
Speaking at a school after training with some of the children, Beckham was overwhelmed by the reaction to his arrival.
"Thank you for an amazing welcome," he said. "I'm very happy to be here, I've been quite a few times before and have always been welcomed with open arms and with a lot of love.
"It's a pleasure to be here and it's a pleasure to be an Ambassador for the league. Football has been a part of my life since I was very young, so I am proud to be an Ambassador for the game and proud to be an Ambassador of the game here... and I am looking forward to being a part of this project."
The game in China has been tarnished by a recent match-fixing scandal which saw bans on 58 Chinese football players and officials extended worldwide by FIFA, while the domestic league struggles in comparison to foreign leagues and the national team failed to qualify for next year's World Cup under high-profile Spanish coach Jose Antonio Camacho.
Beckham, though, insisted that he was not there to clean up the sport in China, but his focus was on the kids.
"I'm not here to clean up anything," he said. "I'm here to educate the children and give them a chance to become professional footballers."