A well-decorated paddler who achieved greater success as coach, Cai, also China's vice sports minister, will replace the 75-year-old Yuan Weimin following the first reshuffle of the CFA executive board in a decade.
"There are so many heavy tasks and time is limited. I just want to say three words: determination, confidence and perseverance," Xinhua quoted Cai as saying.
"What I am saying is not a slogan. By determination I mean I will put in real efforts to set goals and to bring Chinese soccer back to its right track," said Cai, credited for laying the foundation for his country's table tennis supremacy in the last two decades.
Football will pose a bigger challenge for the 53-year-old as powerful football bureaucracy, poor management, piecemeal youth training schemes and widespread underground betting rings have corroded the sport and restricted China to just one World Cup finals appearance and no Asian Cup success.
China are also without a manager since sacking former Spain boss Juan Antonio Camacho in June following a bad run of results, including a 5-1 loss to Thailand, with Fu Bo in temporary charge.
They are ranked 92nd by world governing body FIFA.
Cai sounded conscious of the challenge ahead.
"The stern reality of Chinese soccer forces us to make complete changes. I am burdened with a colossal task," he added.
- Sports & Recreation