The average number of Chinese girls in a football school sharply decreased from 150 to 50 in recent years, shaking the foundation of the national team, which had ever been one of the world's best.
Even the Shanghai Yangpu District, the renowned "Town of Football" in China, can recruit one-digit number of girls for training every year. In many provinces, the number is nil now. The lack of headstream forced the only women's football school in Beijing, run by former star playmaker Liu Ailing, to close in June this year.
"Fewer parents are willing to send their daughters to football schools," said Wang Jianding, Xi'an team leader, in Wuhan of Hubei Province on Saturday at the ongoing women's soccer tournament of the Sixth Chinese City Games.
"Girls in schools seldom play football because they have too many choices such as playing musical instruments and singing, and they usually prefer table tennis and swimming if they engage in sports," said Wang. "Even if some girls like football and want to join a football team, they have to ask for the parents' permission and the answer is always negative."
Wang's remarks were echoed by coaches from many teams and officials from the Chinese Football Association (CFA).
"I'm quite worried about the present status of the development of Chinese junior women soccer players," said Wen Lirong, a former star defender of the "Steel Roses" and an official with the CFA women's department now.
The fast economic growth in China is making the development of sports in the country market-oriented. The more eye-catching men's soccer, leaned on the Chinese Super League, created many millionaires from the male professional footballers.
However, women footballers in China still lead a relatively poor life. A coach told Xinhua that the women's soccer events in China always face the embarrassment of lack of funds. For junior players, many of them not only have no income but have to pay traveling fees by themselves.
A newspaper report had ever said that a female footballer collected drinking water bottles on the street to make money after a match.
"For a junior football team after several years' training, only three or four players can enter the provincial team and maybe none of them can enter the national team, said an official with Guangzhou Football Association.
"These players have to find way out by themselves, but they have no other skills for making a living due to the long-term training, so it's hard for them to gain their foothold in the society," he noted.
"The descending of the Chinese women football national team is a social problem," said Zhang Jianqiang, director of CFA women's department. "No parents would like to send their daughters to the football schools if there is no good educational environment and no way out."
A new mode of Combination of Sports and Education has been advocated and applied in China, but still a lot of work needs to be done by relevant departments on popularizing the mode.
The Chinese women's football team reached its peak in 1999 World Cup in the United States where they finished runners-up, only losing to the hosts in the final through penalty shootout.
Sun Wen, former world's best female footballer, Liu Ailing, the key playmaker who scored two brilliant long shots home in China's 5-0 crush over Norway in the 1999 World Cup semifinal, and Wen Lirong, the core defender, are still in mind of the Chinese fans.
Since these elites' retirement, the "Steel Roses" withered away for lack of talents for many years.
Although Marika Domanski-Lyfors, a Swede who led Sweden to the runners-up of 2003 World Cup, pulled the Chinese team out of the nadir to the top eight of the 2007 World Cup in China, the technical and tactical level of the squad is still quite lower than other participating teams.
(Xinhua News Agency November 3, 2007)