The Uruguayan ambassador to Beijing is calling for deepening cooperation between his country and China, and says that soccer can be the key to making that happen.
"Taking sports as an area of emphasis, China and Uruguay will work together to push forward our strategic partnership in all areas," said Fernando Lugris, Uruguayan ambassador in China, during a recent interview with Xinhua.
SPORTS AS PART OF A BILATERAL STRATEGIC PARTNERSHIP
"Sports is one of the fundamental aspects of the friendly relationship between our two nations, as well as a vital part of our people-to-people exchanges that also include collaboration in culture, education and other social sectors," he said.
While Chinese soccer fanatics are still savoring the impressive performance of Uruguayan players at the China Cup tournament that just concluded on Monday in Nanning, southwestern China's Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region Region, Uruguayan officials have begun to take concrete actions to implement an agreement on sports cooperation with China.
"We are willing to share with China our experience in preparing soccer talents, and we are grateful for China's generous help in other disciplines," said Lugris.
China and Uruguay will soon celebrate their 30th anniversary since the establishment of diplomatic ties. In January, Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi visited Montevideo, where the importance of deepening cooperation in culture, education and sports was stressed, said Lugris.
"We are living in a better-than-ever historic moment of our bilateral relationship, and a closer partnership in sports will only make it better," he said.
TRANSPLANTING "THE URUGUAY MODEL" TO HELP CHINESE SOCCER
Lugris pointed out that Uruguay is a country with a sparse population ( 3.4 million) but yet it remains a strong one in soccer.
The Uruguayan national team, nicknamed "The Sky Blue One (La Celeste in Spanish)" has a history that spans to the present day, but began at the outset of modern soccer's development. To boot, Uruguay is the holder of the most international titles as recognized by FIFA.
"Why are we good at soccer? It is simple: our children have played soccer ever since they were little. Children from 5 to 13 years old play matches at the professional level every weekend," explained the diplomat.
"Glory in soccer is a national obsession for both China and Uruguay," he said. In his view, a more effective competition mechanism on campus and wider participation among children in the sport could be where the long-expected breakthrough will finally take place for men's soccer in China.
Uruguay's National Secretary of Sports (SENADE) has been working to create a soccer training center in Tangshan, a city in northern China's Hebei province, where volunteer coaches from the Latin American country will give courses to local children and train their Chinese counterparts.
Once proven successful, the collaboration model could be copied to other Chinese cities, said Pablo Hernandez, SENADE Coordinator for Special Programs.
"Perhaps in the future, we could pave the way for talented young players from China to train and compete in Uruguay, and from there to the world," suggested Lugris.
But can China become as strong as Uruguay in men's soccer? "Yes, it can happen. Someday, as long as we work together," SENADE coordinator in Federated Sports Roberto Espasandin told Xinhua.
CHINA'S SUPPORT IN OTHER SPORTS APPRECIATED
As the soccer school in Tangshan gets into full swing this year, around a hundred Uruguayan athletes will come to train in China under high-level programs in weightlifting, table tennis, gymnastics, taekwondo, judo and other sports where China is a world-leading power.
This development was confirmed by SENADE officials in an interview with Xinhua.
"China's generous support is highly valued and appreciated and with such support, it is expected that the young generation of our sport talents will obtain better results at international games," said Espasandin.
China's work with Uruguay in this area is threefold: Uruguayan sportsmen will be sent to train in China in the mid-to-long term, Chinese coaches will be sent to help select talents and consolidate training results overseas, and equipment will be given. This was confirmed by Lv Guoguang, general manager of the China Sports International Co. Ltd., which is the executive entity in charge of these programs, in an interview with Xinhua.
Since 2013, China has been providing assistance in this area to countries in Africa, Southeast Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean, he said.
China's support in sport development comes with no political intentions nor extra conditions, he added. "These programs have the sole purpose of helping other countries improve their sporting levels and deepening our relationship."
Glory in sports is a shared pursuit of all humankind that brings people together, Lv stressed.
Uruguay defeated Wales, the Czech Republic and hosts to storm to victory at the just-concluded China Cup, with midfielder Edison Cavani honored as the Most Valuable Player in the event.