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FIFA hails former Chinese women footballer as "an inspiration" after injury-hit career

2021-03-08 14:40:00 Xinhuanet

CANBERRA, March 8 (Xinhua) -- Former Chinese women footballer Bai Lili has been praised by FIFA recently as a shining example for the sport in the world, saying she has "shaped a new destiny for herself" after her playing career was brought to "a cruel and abrupt end" by a serious ligament injury.

At the 2006 Asian Cup, Bai, a leading role in midfield and a central figure in coach Ma Liangxing's starting line-up, excelled throughout the tournament but suffered the injury in the semifinal, which proved to be her last match at the international stage.

"To be honest, I was unaware how bad the injury was," said the 42-year-old, who is now head of the Asian Football Confederation's (AFC) Women Football Department, told FIFA.com recently, when the governing body put a series of stories focused on women's football on the website, to celebrate International Women's Day.

After missing the final when China beat the host Australia on penalties, Bai, surrounded by teammates, smiled at the post-campaign celebration, holding the trophy in a wheelchair.

Despite four operations in the next two years, Bai's hopes of returning to the field and especially playing at the 2007 World Cup on home soil faded as the injury was devastating.

"I did whatever I could as I tried to regain my fitness as a player. But ultimately, I knew my past self would never return," she reflected.

"I was in my prime (before the injury), but I had to retire from playing. It was so cruel."

With football in her heart, she opted to contribute to the sport's development for youth and grassroots after finishing the playing career.

Having worked as an assistant in FIFA and AFC grassroots projects, Bai undertook AFC coaching courses, progressing through the levels until she received the Pro License in 2016.

She also worked as the coaching staff of China's U-17 women's team in the 2014 FIFA U-17 Women's World Cup before joining the AFC.

"It is no use lamenting the past," she said. "You have to do something down-to-earth. You need to put ideas into action, and then you have opportunities to realize your ambitions.

"Looking back, it was in those years as a youth coach that I developed my new ability after retirement. Aside from teaching the young players, I gained a lot of experience in terms of management and getting along with people."

Sarai Bareman, FIFA's Chief Women's Football Officer, told FIFA.com that she hoped to see more former players like Bai get involved in the administration of women's football - to the benefit of women and girls everywhere.

"Bai is such an inspiration and someone I really admire: for her resilience, her willingness to give back, and her determined approach to seeing women's football in Asia reach new heights," said Bareman.

Bai said that as a former player, she proved through her example that girls could have a bright future through football.

"You need to improve your ability both on and off the pitch. Female players need to achieve all-round development." Enditem

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