CLADmag issue 3 2016

Page 118

SPORT

Andrew James China’s ambition to become a world football power is coming to fruition. Andrew James from Populous talks to Matthew Campelli about a new deal with Alisport which will turbocharge the nation’s infrastructure

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ifteen years ago, architecture studio Populous dipped its toe into the Chinese sports market to work on the design of the Nanjing Sports Park, which would go on to host the China National Games in 2005 and the IOC Youth Olympic Games in 2014. The practice has had an interest in the vast nation ever since, designing structures such as Zhuhai’s International Tennis Centre. Populous now finds itself at the centre of the Chinese government’s aggressive drive towards footballing dominance and may create the blueprint for the way football facilities are designed and renovated across the country. In June this year, Populous signed a deal with Alisports – the sports arm of Chinese global trade platform Alibaba – which has set its sights on operating “50,000 sports venues in China over the next 10 years” to build a connection with its 470 million subscribers. As part of the deal Populous will consult on how to transform a number of ‘white elephant’ arenas into functioning stadiums, with a focus on fan engagement and experience. The studio is also keen to pick up several projects itself to speed up the nation’s desire to create a landscape of world-class sporting facilities.

Alibaba has set its sights on operating 50,000 sports venues in China over the next 10 years to build a connection with its 470 million subscribers

Football superpower Andrew James, Populous’ Asian and Australian director, is overseeing the strategic partnership, and he is certain about what’s driving China’s ambitions: “There is a lot of money going into

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Populous designed Zhuhai’s International Tennis Centre

China’s football Super League,” he says. “There’s no doubt it will rise rapidly over the next five years – when the Chinese decide to do something, they don’t hold back, they really do it.” China has been unflinching in making clear its desire to become a world football superpower, with its domestic football teams spending millions on established foreign football stars and President Xi Jinping making the bold statement that he wants the nation to host – and then win – the FIFA World Cup. While the government is driving the ambition, private companies such as Alisports are taking control, with an eye on the economic benefits a healthy football industry can bring. “In a lot of Asian countries, not just China, government and large private businesses seem to work hand in glove,” says James. “Businesses will want to sit at the top table and they will help out on the policies the government wants to drive.” Aside from relationships with the government, an organisation such as Alisports may see large public venues as a way to get their advertising message across or exploit sponsorship capabilities. To emphasise the size of the market, James says that Guangzhou Evergrande – one of China’s most successful football clubs – regularly sells out its stadium despite the fact the pitch is surrounded by an athletics track and “people can hardly see”. James adds: “There are so many areas they can professionalise the sport, in terms of the venues, and commercialisation. Right now money is being spent on recruiting the best players, but I expect money to be spent on coaches, and then

CLAD mag 2016 ISSUE 3


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