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China vows to change country's negative perception of football

Students take part in a training match at Evergrande soccer academy in Qingyuan, southern China on Dec 5, 2015.

[BEIJING] China is working hard to overcome soccer's negative image following years of corruption scandals and a stagnation in player development, a leading sports official said on Tuesday.

"There have been major efforts made in Chinese soccer in recent years and while there have been some positive results, the people are still not satisfied," Deputy Sports Minister Feng Jianzhong told reporters at a briefing. "We hope to take a big step up with soccer and now the country is taking many measures to do that," he added.

Mr Feng said the government planned to promote anti-corruption measures and increase punishments for wrongdoers, while introducing improved regulations and education. However, he did not elaborate on how the procedures would be implemented.

As well as looking to improve matters on the domestic front, a consortium led by state-backed China Media Capital recently took a US$400 million stake in English side Manchester City, making it Beijing's biggest investment in the sport overseas.

The tie-up will help Abu Dhabi-owned City gain access to the burgeoning sports and entertainment market in the world's most populous nation, and give China a better understanding of international soccer.

Chinese authorities have supported the drive to improve domestic soccer through political backing but development has been hampered by a string of corruption cases in the last decade and a lack of quality players.