- The Washington Times - Friday, August 15, 2014

It’s football diplomacy, and even Steve Forbes is impressed. The onetime presidential hopeful is amazed that a few U.S. entrepreneurs have brought the gridiron to China, where the potential sports audience could top a billion people, he says.

“At a time of tension between Washington and Beijing - China’s worrying naval assertiveness, serious charges of cyber-spying, trade restrictions and protection of intellectual property - here’s a piece of good news: American-style football is coming to the Middle Kingdom. Chinese sports authorities have formally approved the creation of the country’s first football league,” Mr. Forbes observes.

The China American Football League fires up in 2015, with two conferences and eight teams. The man behind it all is Marty Judge, co-owner of the Arena League’s Philadelphia Soul, plus ESPN analyst Ron Jaworski and Super Bowl-winning coach Dick Vermeil. Mr. Judge, who already has a media company in Beijing, is excited about the “untapped Chinese audience,” adding “the sky’s the limit.”

Hollywood and entertainment companies have also taken notice of this phenomenon; some major studios have already made inroads into the huge audience in the last two years. Meanwhile, the optimistic Mr. Forbes recalls another sports diplomacy moment between the U.S. and China - this from the Nixon administration.

“Just as some 40-plus years ago the game of table tennis was an instrument in breaking down barriers between the U.S. and China, football could play a similar role today in improving relations between these two giants,” he notes, adding, “One good sign that China is desirous of defusing tensions with its neighbors came recently when it changed the location of a controversial oil-drilling platform in the South China Sea that had roiled relations with Vietnam.”

• Jennifer Harper can be reached at jharper@washingtontimes.com.

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