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It’s easy to trace the roots of American football and basketball, as they’re both comparatively recently developed sports. Things get a little more difficult with soccer, though.

While the world’s most popular sport got its first set of standardized competition rules in 1863, courtesy of England’s Football Association, the game had existed in various forms for some time before that. Several countries have since claimed to be the birthplace of soccer, but one now has the official recognition of the president of soccer’s international governing body.

According to FIFA President Sepp Blatter, soccer originated in China.

One of the more popular theories about how soccer got started involves a post-battle celebration in eighth-century England, when a group of victorious warriors beheaded an enemy general and kicked his head around in jubilation. Other sports historians have noted similarities between modern soccer and games played in ancient Greece, Italy, and South America.

Throwing their hat into the ring is China, by way of an assentation put forth by the Qi State History Museum in Zibo City.

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The museum points to shared characteristics between soccer and cuju, a game played in China during the country’s Spring and Autumn historical period, which ran from the eighth to fifth century B.C. The object of Cuju is to kick a leather ball, stuffed with feathers, into a hole. Use of the hands is prohibited.

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The Spring and Autumn period was a tumultuous time marked by military conflict, and cuju first caught on with cavalrymen looking for an entertaining way to exercise their legs. As its popularity grew, the museum theorizes that word of it spread west, evolving and gaining popularity in Greece, Egypt, Rome, France, and eventually England.

The explanation has been deemed plausible by Blatter, who has presented the museum with an official document recognizing China as “the cradle of the earliest forms of football.”

Despite the inclusive gesture, some English scholars aren’t satisfied that the burden of proof has been met. Historian and novelist Tom Holland, for one, feels the connection between cuju and soccer is spurious at best. In his eyes, kicking things as a diversion is an action common to cultures all over the world, so that alone isn’t enough to conclude that the Beautiful Game is a direct descendant of the Chinese pastime.

Likewise, Ellis Cashmore, professor of culture, media, and sport at Staffordshire University, thinks historical acumen may not be Blatter’s highest priority. Instead, the official recognition may be a move designed to generate more money, Cashmore believes. International soccer has enjoyed great economic success since Blatter became FIFA’s president in 1998, the professor points out. Sustaining that growth, though, requires making inroads into new markets. Given the potential embodied by China’s massive developing economy, the goodwill from Blatter’s nod of approval just might provide the sort of goodwill FIFA can capitalize on in the years to come.

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As for now, there still isn’t a definitive answer to the debate over soccer’s past. Thankfully, its future is right around the corner, with the World Cup opening in Brazil on June 12.

ET Today, Soccerly, Taipei Times
Top image: Digi Labs, Wooden Cross Church (edited by RocketNews24)
Insert images: Wikipedia/Qian, ET Today,

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