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A Chinese real estate giant has signed a deal worth 77 million dollars with the China Football Association. The deal covers company sponsorship, referee training and assessment, and an overseas program for teenage players.
The founder of a Chinese soccer club, who quit the game in disgust in 2000, announced their return on Sunday with a 77-million-dollar investment.
Real estate giant Dalian Wanda pulled out of Chinese soccer 11 years ago in protest against corruption. It has now returned to the embattled sport that has witnessed two former soccer chiefs behind bars and the top league without a title sponsor.
Wanda's three-year deal with the Chinese Football Association covers the company's sponsorship of the Chinese Super League, Chinese Youth League, and referee training and assessment.
It also includes an overseas program for teenage players and the hiring of a world-class foreign coach for the Chinese national team.
Wanda's team set a 55-game unbeaten record and won the Chinese top league four times between 1994 and 1998. But the company withdrew from the Chinese league after controversially losing the 1998 CFA Cup semi-final to Liaoning. Two years later, Wanda sold its shares to the soccer club Dalian Shide.
Wanda president Wang Jianlin vowed to have nothing more to do with Chinese soccer, but he says that his passion for the game has never died out.
He says that Chinese people love the "beautiful game" and are expecting better performances from Chinese players.
[Wang Jianlin, President, Dalian Wanda]:
"I want to do something to help the Chinese people realize their dreams."