ABC News’ Sasha Han reports:
BEIJING — It might not be a goal in the soccer field, but David Beckham is scoring big in another arena: China.
“Hi I am David! Welcome to the OFFICIAL David Beckham Sina Page! Talk to you soon!” was the Englishman’s first post on Sina Weibo, China’s Twitter. In just one day he garnered over 400,000 followers.
The recently retired and international soccer star arrived in Beijing on Monday in his role as the country’s first ever soccer ambassador. It is part of of an attempt to revive the game’s image abroad amid several game-fixing scandals. His visit coincides with China’s confrontation with its own soccer scandals.
Although he received a warm welcome from Chinese fans, not even Beckham’s arrival could lift the spirits of soccer fans here after the country suffered a humiliating defeat late last week. China, which is ranked 47 places ahead of Thailand by FIFA, lost 5-1 when the two countries met. While the defeat was enough to spur heated debate among sports commentators, the fact that Thailand was fielding seven players from their under-21 squad provoked more than the usual share of anger amongst soccer enthusiasts.
To add insult to injury, all of this happened on President Xi Jinping’s 60th birthday.
It wasn’t long before angry fans began citing internal corruption and a lack of national spirit as the reasons behind the loss. The defeat one of the top trending topics on Weibo. Rumors began to fly that the team intentionally threw the game after pressure from gamblers betting against them. Others quickly placed the blame on head coach, Jose Antonio Camacho. Under his leadership the team has dropped 26 places in the FIFA world rankings and failed to qualify for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
The short history of China’s national soccer team has been one steeped in scandal and corruption. The future success of the men’s soccer team, one disappointed fan commented is “an achievable goal gradually became a dream and is now becoming an illusion.”
Faced with this extreme public backlash, the only thing the Chinese national male soccer team could do was apologize to netizens online by posting a single “Sorry” on their official Weibo account.