January 19, 2009 / 6:09 AM / 11 years ago

Soccer-Beijing Guoan get $3m 'image' boost, to play Man Utd

BEIJING, Jan 19 (Reuters) - Beijing is to invest 20 million yuan ($2.93 million) in the city’s Guoan club in an attempt to improve the image of soccer in the Chinese capital.

The money will be mainly spent on youth development but also help fund a friendly against world and European champions Manchester United in the city in July, according to Guoan general manager Li Xiaoming.

“After a successful Olympics, the underdevelopment of football is doing harm to the image of the Beijing,” Sun Kanglin, the head of the Beijing Sports Bureau, told a news conference at the weekend.

“The government will give Guoan no less than 20 million yuan this year ... and it will definitely be a long-term cooperation.”

The host city of 2008 Olympics has put in place an annual budget of 500 million yuan to help post-Games sporting development, in part to make use of the venues built for last August’s extravaganza.

Guoan, owned by the same company as the showpiece National “Bird’s Nest” Stadium, cancelled plans to play home matches in the 80,000-capacity arena because of fears the poor reputation of Chinese football would sully the iconic venue’s image.

Football in China has long been a byword for ineptitude, corruption and violence both on and off the pitch.

Sun said the government’s involvment would be aimed at strengthening management and “creating a team that met the standards of the Chinese capital”.

“We know the external perception of football is not good enough, so the bureau will promote the city club by giving support in terms of human resource and money, in order to better display Beijing via such a window in the future,” Sun said.

“We are ready to jump into this pit of fire.”

Guoan have never been Chinese league champions and finished third in the Chinese Super League (CSL) last season to qualify for a spot in the revamped Asian Champions League.

Reporting by Liu Zhen, editing by Nick Mulvenney

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