China has named former England captain David Beckham as its first global soccer ambassador to revive the game's image which has been hit by a match-fixing scandal and an exodus of international stalwarts from the country's premier league.
In his new role, Beckham, who joined French club Paris Saint-Germain in January, is expected to help bring Chinese Super League (CSL) to the world stage and promote the game in the world's most populous country.
"I am honoured to have been asked to play such an important role at this special time in Chinese football history," Beckham said in a statement released by IMG.
"I'm excited by the prospect of promoting the world's greatest game to Chinese sports fans as I've seen firsthand the growing interest in football there.
"This is a wonderful sport that inspires people across the world and brings families together, so I'm relishing the opportunity of introducing more fans to the game."
China grabbed eyeballs when players such as Nicolas Anelka and Didier Drogba and high-profile coaches including Italian Marcello Lippi chose the big-spending CSL as their preferred destination to continue their careers.
However, just after a season, both Drogba and Anelka ended their Chinese sojourn, accepting that the desire to play at a higher level was more important for them.
A bigger blow came earlier this month when the Chinese Football Association (CFA) sanctioned 58 people in total, including two soccer chiefs, concluding a three-year long push to clean up rampant corruption in the sport.
One of the most recognisable footballers across the globe, 37-year-old Beckham served as a special ambassador for last year's London Olympics. Chinese officials expect his popularity and influence to restore the game's credibility in the country.
"2013 marks the 20th anniversary of professional football in China and the special ambassadorship of David Beckham will attract global attention to Chinese football and the CSL," an unidentified CFA official was quoted in the statement.
"While in China, he will attend the CSL and visit Clubs to get a deeper insight into football in China.
"He will also help us to inspire and motivate many children to participate in this beautiful game."
This year's CSL kicks off on Friday.
(Reporting by Sudipto Ganguly in Mumbai; editing by Amlan Chakraborty)
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