Barry Hearn, one of Britain’s leading sports promoters, is concerned about China’s tendency to hire foreign soccer talent, warning that the country should not waste money on “established foreign players” but rather demonstrate the patience necessary to create homegrown superstars.
“Don’t grow too quickly,” the 70-year-old said in an interview with Xinhua. “Don’t rush. You are rushing. When you rush, you create a market that is artificial. You have created a market where you haven’t served the grassroots.”
Hearn has revolutionized snooker and darts over the past decade, turning the two pub-centric events into “huge” sports. His Matchroom company boasted 600 event days last year across 12 sports.
He also has soccer chops, having served as chairman of London’s Leyton Orient club for 19 years. The Scottish Football Association invited him to give a lecture a few years ago that was met with widespread acclaim.
Hearn also has experience in promoting sports in China, exploring the potential of the world’s most attractive market in snooker, which has produced global stars like former world No 1 Ding Junhui and former English Open champion Liang Wenbo.
“Don’t forget that it took me 34 years to make snooker a big game in China,” he said.
Twelve months ago, Chinese Super League clubs spent hundreds of millions of yuan snapping up superstar players and coaches including Carlos Tevez, Oscar, Jackson Martinez, Luiz Felipe Scolari, Felix Magath, Andre Villas-boas, Manuel Pellegrini and Fabio Cannavaro, who used to grace the most famous stadiums of the “Big Five” leagues.
Hearn said it was a chaotic period, and that the Chinese government was correct to slam the breaks on the spending frenzy.
“A year ago, it was crazy,” he said. “Huge money was thrown at old players. They wasted a lot of money. I think the government has realized that enough is enough. So it is now controlled, which is good.
“The most important thing is to serve the grassroots, not just buy the superstars. You need to create the fabric of sport – people actually playing. Then they will love the game. Then you can develop it to significant levels.
“You must not try to run before you can walk. And walking is educating, establishing grassroots and community participation. That is the secret. When snooker was growing, we made snooker part of the education system, put snooker tables in schools and gave everyone opportunities to play. Then the game took off.”
When asked what he would do if the Chinese government invited him to help boost its soccer development, Hearn was candid.
“What I would do is set up separate football academies in each province, servicing the community. I would make sure that there is some financial control to limit the money they spend, and have it controlled by the government.
“There are some very wealthy people in China that want instant success. The big success you need is not to buy players from overseas, but create your own superstars. But that takes time. If you just buy a talent that is already established, it does not develop the sport itself. You need balance.
“You must never forget that China must create its own superstars. That means combining money with a national plan on amateurs and professionals, under the control of sensible people.”
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