Ma helps fund $197m pool to spur China women's soccer

SHANGHAI • China's second-richest man Jack Ma will contribute to a one billion yuan (S$197.3 million) donation over a decade to develop women's football in the country.

The initiative is backed primarily by Alipay Foundation, the charitable arm of the payment platform, as well as the foundations of Ma and Joe Tsai, the co-founders of online shopping giant Alibaba.

Cai Yong, an executive committee member of the Chinese Football Association, called the gift "unprecedented" in a joint statement yesterday.

He said: "Women's football is not just a sport, but also a powerful social cause that encourages girls and women to pursue their dreams and ambitions."

The funds will be allocated into four main areas:

• Performance improvement of the Chinese women's national team

• Injury prevention and treatment, and career development of retired footballers

• Technical development and coach education

• Youth development

The China women's team have achieved more than their male counterparts despite having far less support, while their professional league gets little notice and plays to meagre attendances.

They have a track record that would be the envy of their men, who made only one World Cup appearance in 2002 and lost all three matches to exit at the first hurdle.

The Steel Roses have qualified for seven of eight Women's World Cups.

But, since finishing runners-up to the United States on penalties in 1999, they have slipped at the global showpiece tournament.

In the ongoing tournament in France, they failed to reach the quarter-finals for the first time and insiders worry they will slide further without more backing.

The three parties aim to make football "more sustainable and accessible to girls and women across the nation". The billion-dollar funding is nearly five times the US$30 million (S$40.7 million) prize money for this year's Women's World Cup.

The initiative also serves as an extension of Alipay's two-year-long programme to support young girls in Qiongzhong Li and Miao autonomous county, Hainan province, where several girls are enrolled in national youth teams, reported Xinhua news agency.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 06, 2019, with the headline 'Ma helps fund $197m pool to spur China women's soccer'. Print Edition | Subscribe