Can Beckham put Chinese football on the world stage?
It's a demanding role - only last month 33 players and officials were banned for life for match-fixing
MOVE over Batman, here comes Beckham. In the old days it was the Caped Crusader who was called upon to root out corruption and put an end to evil, but in China the task falls to David Beckham.
The 37-year-old former England captain, currently with French club Paris Saint-Germain, has recently been appointed an ambassador for Chinese football and on Wednesday he arrived in Beijing to help repair the battered image of the sport in the country.
China Daily says that in becoming an ambassador for Chinese soccer "Beckham has undertaken a demanding role". In February the Chinese Football Association banned 33 players and match officials for life for match-fixing, and in 2012 two former chiefs of the soccer league were jailed for ten years each for taking bribes.
With China having failed to qualify for the 2014 World Cup, there is a growing sense of disenchantment among football fans that the game's governing body seems interested only in making money rather than developing the game among its people.
Ever the diplomat, Beckham swerved around any awkward questions during his introductory press conference. "I am here as an ambassador, it's as simple as that," he said.
Asked about accepting a role in an organisation that doesn't have the best image among ordinary Chinese people, the man they call Goldenballs replied: "I don't think it will damage my reputation because I am not a politician… I was not involved in scandals or corruption in the past, and I am here for the future to develop the grassroots game."
Beckham will spend five days in China and most of that time will be spent encouraging the country's youth to take up the game, the reason why the press conference was held in the Beijing Shijia Primary School. "It's important for me to educate the children to be able to go into one of the greatest sports in the world. That's my role," Beckham explained to the throng of reporters crammed into the school.
China Daily says Beckham won't be left out of pocket from his new role: the world's best paid player is allegedly set to receive $2.6m from the Chinese soccer authorities.
"Beckham is the obvious candidate to put Chinese football on the world stage," said Wei Jixiang, an official of the Chinese Football Association, when asked why they had hired the ageing English star to promote the game in the world's most populous nation. As for one day gracing the Chinese Super League himself, Beckham wouldn't rule out the idea: "If I can maintain my fitness, who knows." ·