Exclusive interview with female soccer players in Beijing on International Women's Day
Updated 22:54, 09-Mar-2019
Li Chenqi
03:21

It has been a long time since Ma Xiaoxu won the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Women's Player of the Year in 2006, yet the Chinese international veteran is still active in women's soccer, she even moved from her hometown team of Dalian to Beijing women's soccer club BG Phoenix in the 2018/19 transfer window to find more opportunities for her career.

Ma was China's third AFC Women's Player of the Year. Before her, there were Sun Wen and Bai Jie who won the awards in 1999 and 2003 respectively. These big names attracted huge attention to the "Steel Roses", but in the 12 years since Ma led China to win the 2006 AFC Asian Cup, interest in women's soccer has cooled down as the national team hasn't been able to win another title.

Ma Xiaoxu wins the AFC Women's Player of the Year 2006 /VCG Photo

Ma Xiaoxu wins the AFC Women's Player of the Year 2006 /VCG Photo

But, with China's national women's soccer team winning a silver medal in the 2018 Asian Games - their best result in 16 years - and China's international forward Wang Shuang transferring to Paris Saint-Germain, becoming the fourth player from China to win the AFC Women's Player of the Year in the process, the Chinese Football Association (CFA) has begun actively promoting women's soccer. With the FIFA Women's World Cup approaching, China is once again keeping a watchful eye again on the sport.

March 8 is International Women's Day and Ma went to Beijing Daxing District Experimental School of China's National Institute of Education Sciences to promote the AFC Women's Football Day activity with around 100 girls from its primary school.

Ma Xiaoxu (2L) attends the AFC Women's Football Day with Beijing BG Phoenix FC players. /CGTN Photo

Ma Xiaoxu (2L) attends the AFC Women's Football Day with Beijing BG Phoenix FC players. /CGTN Photo

The school is famous for its soccer education, as it gives students two 80-minute professional soccer training sessions every week alongside their standard  courses. The young girls also told CGTN that they have different levels of team, and the members all started to train at age five or six.

Through the AFC's activities and the Experimental School's formation, which promotes the idea that women can play soccer as well as boys, the girls truly enjoy playing the game and that's how they develop their talents. Once they start competing and have good performances in national competitions, they can join Daxing District Sports School, one of 14 women's soccer youth training bases in China, to further develop their soccer skill with professional guidance, and perhaps they could even join a women's soccer team in China or around the world.

Girls train soccer in Daxing District Sports School. /CGTN Photo

Girls train soccer in Daxing District Sports School. /CGTN Photo

Mother goalkeeper

Beijing native Chu Qiao, a mother of two children and the goalkeeper for Phoenix, grew up in this type of system.

At about eight years old, Chu started training soccer at the Xiannongtan Sports School, the base of the Beijing Women's Soccer Team, the former name of BG Phoenix FC. She also served as the main goalkeeper of China national women's youth team and always played for Beijing, but she had to retire in 2011 due to injury.

Chu Qiao of Beijing BG Phoenix FC /CGTN Photo

Chu Qiao of Beijing BG Phoenix FC /CGTN Photo

"It was a Women's Super League game against the Wuhan Ladies. The ball was in the area and I fenced it out, but at that moment, their striker couldn't stop and her knee hit my chin," said Chu, gesturing to her chin to act out the size of the swelling.

"At that moment, I thought one of my teeth was broken, but when the doctor asked me whether I was okay or not, I found I could not speak and went off the pitch to go straight to the hospital."

"When I finished the x-ray check, the doctor told me that my chin suffered a comminuted fracture." Eight years after that severe injury, Chu is optimistic and spoke of her experience without regret – and even showed more of the scars on her body. "Being an athlete, the injuries are inevitable. It hurts definitely, but to realize my dream, I have to bear it."

While she was a player, every time she got injured, she would tell her family when she was totally recovered. But the visible damage led to Chu's family pulling her from team. The decision was so final that all her stuff in the dormitory had to be sent to home by her teammates.

Chu Qiao's injury on her left thumb /CGTN Photo

Chu Qiao's injury on her left thumb /CGTN Photo

After leaving the pitch for good, Chu got married and had two children, but now she has established her own family, she still wants to continue a career in soccer. "I once had a meeting with my old coach, in it I mentioned that I would like to go back, as I never forgot my dream of playing soccer during the past eight years, and he sent a contract to me after that."

Now, already the age of a veteran soccer player, with her own determination and her husband's support, Chu is training diligently with the Phoenix first squad, trying to find her way back to being the team's Number 1.