China deepens ties with Latin America though football

18 June 2018 4 min. read
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As eight Latin American teams push ahead in the 2018 World Cup in Russia, the Sino-Latin consultancy Novam Portam was looking towards the future; at a country which did not qualify. The boutique consultancy, which specialises in connecting Latin America with the world, have set their sights on football in China.  

As a part of China’s vision for 2050, the country has outlined its desire to win the football world cup by 2050. Football is Chinese President Xi Jinping’s favourite sport and China is spending up big on making the country the best team in Asia by 2030. In 2016 alone, Chinese clubs spent just over $450 million on international players, the majority of which were Latin Americans. 

China’s ambition to develop the sport is as ambitious as it is impressive seeing that the country barely had any football pitches ten years ago. However, the sport has grown exponentially as a result of meticulous state planning, with an interest in using football as a way to connect with the global community.  

Drawing on Europeans and Latin Americans to design the league, coach children’s leagues and develop a homegrown football movement, the Central Government has been “investing in football academies and importing youth coaches from Uruguay and beyond.” Building grassroots football has become a top priority for the Chinese. 

This is according to the boutique New York-based consultancy firm Novam Portam in an article titled ‘World Cup: China is using football to score big in Latin America’. The consultancy believes that the Chinese are using football as one of many ways to shift its position in global affairs and build a connection with Latin America.

“China is making a big bet that rebalancing the football globe will pay off for them diplomatically and commercially,” states the report. “If it pays off, it may be the cultural connection that has long eluded the China-LatAm relationship.”  

China deepens ties with Latin America though football

For Latin Americans, this relationship is beginning to develop with Latin leaders looking towards China rather than an increasingly insular United States. Since the late 2000s, Sino-investment in Latin America and the Caribbean sat at under $50 billion in foreign direct investment. Jump forwardten years and that figure had reached just under $250 billion, with trade between the two growing in double digits in 2017.

The majority of this has been focused on infrastructure, energy and agriculture, however, interest in broadening cultural ties between the two regions has been centered through sport. “In anticipation of high-level visits, both sides are under pressure to put together a batch of impressive announcements,” said Margaret Myers, the Program Director of Latin America and the World at The Inter-American Dialogue. 

“Sometimes this sports-type diplomacy, or sports-related cooperation, is thrown in there. And in some situations, it can be the dressing to more controversial announcements.” China has been invoking this sentiment throughout the past – with gifts of football stadiums in Latin America and the Caribbean – to create a shift in political public opinion towards increased trade.

“Under the auspices of this broader 'people-to-people connectivity'–and I do think they believe very strongly in this–there is an effort to really improve China’s diplomatic standing and image globally,” said Myers. “And football is a very neutral and generally positive way to engage a large segment of the population in Latin America, or Africa, you name it. Soccer is popular globally.”

For Novam Portam, this football-diplomacy helps open up Latin America to trade with China and will build ties between the two regions. “One day soon, Latin Americans could be supporting Team China in its bid for the 2034 World Cup,” the report concludes. 

The consulting firm works to build business relationships between the two regions. With a heavy focus on strategy advice, analysis and business development, the firm is one of fastest growing consultancies connecting Latin America with the world. Growing interest in Latin American resources and accelerated cultural ties between the region and China will put the firm in a strong position to continue its expansion ambitions.

Related: Latin Americans are racing to Russia in record numbers for 2018 FIFA World Cup.