The aim of this article is to analyse China's engagement in global sport through an examination of the case of elite football. Although many studies exhibit a quite proper concern with the extent to which the deep structure of culture is affected by sports globalization, they generally fail to give significant consideration to the role of the state, because of excessive emphasis on other aspects of globalization such as commercialization, commodification and cultural homogenization. We attempt, therefore, to refocus on the role of the state and to investigate its relationship with global sport by adopting the theoretical framework of Held et al. (1999) as the main analytical tool for this study. By taking strategic approaches in the economic and cultural/ideological fields, the Chinese government has demonstrated, to some degree, its capacity to find effective ways to manage its relationship with global football. This was demonstrated particularly by the setting up of new governmental commercial agencies, updating sport and football regulations, and strengthening Chinese communist ideological education.