Prince William tries out football diplomacy in China

Britain`s Prince William practised sports diplomacy in China on Tuesday, striding onto the football pitch at a Shanghai school.

AFP| Updated: Mar 03, 2015, 17:08 PM IST

Shanghai: Britain`s Prince William practised sports diplomacy in China on Tuesday, striding onto the football pitch at a Shanghai school.

Wearing a dark blue suit, he stopped a stray ball, tapped it twice with his black shoe before giving it a confident kick on the artificial turf.

His trip to China, making him the highest-profile royal visitor since Queen Elizabeth II in 1986, has been laden with symbolism as Britain attempts to improve top-level diplomatic relations with Beijing.

On Monday, William reached out to China`s top leader, President Xi Jinping, telling him: "I also gather you`re quite a football fan."

State media have called Xi an "avid" fan and the leader last year recommended that all Chinese children learn the game, state media reported.

William -- a supporter of relegation-threatened Aston Villa -- chatted with students taking part in the football clinic at Nanyang secondary school, part of a programme run by the British Council and the Premier League.

Elementary school student Li Ziyu, 11, exchanged a "high five" with William as he told him about his enthusiasm for the Beautiful Game.

"I have played since I was small," he said afterwards.

China`s national team has historically underperformed and last week Beijing unveiled a government initiative to improve its poor showings, in part by fostering young talent.

While the domestic football league offers foreign players and coaches lucrative contracts, the national side remains in a lowly 82nd place, tied with Guatemala, in FIFA`s latest global rankings.

"The game is evolving here," said Paul Hughes, head coach for the global programme Premier Skills, which ran the school event.

"Sometimes it`s about enhancing the game from the bottom. With that, more children are going to get the opportunity to participate," he told AFP.

Meanwhile, a business event linked to William`s visit, aimed at showcasing innovation in arts and industry, will help bring 150 million pounds ($230 million) to the British economy over the next five years, according to a statement released Tuesday.

The business deals include an agreement which will allow co-produced film projects to access domestic benefits, including financing.