Chinese soccer finally returns after undergoing 3 troubled years


AFTER three Covid 19-affected seasons, corruption and financial issues, Saturday’s start of the Chinese Super League (CSL) marks a return to something approaching normal in the country’s soccer scene.

For the first time since the end of the 2019 season and the subsequent lockdowns, bio-secure bubbles in designated host cities and empty stadiums, fans will be able to watch their teams play at home and away.

Supporters will be present when defending champion Wuhan Three Towns plays against Shanghai Port on Saturday.

“The importance of this game is self-evident, and the team has been preparing for the new season well,” said Wuhan coach Pedro Morilla ahead of the season opener. “I am sure that the players will go all out tomorrow and play a wonderful game for the fans.”

Shanghai is, along with Wuhan, one of the few teams to be relatively unaffected by financial problems.

“I know the expectations are running high,” Shanghai chief Javier Pereira said. “What I really want is to get a trophy. We need to get back to winning ways.”

It will be a relief if the talk stays on soccer through 2023. Three years of severe lockdowns, no fans at games, reduced sponsorship and broadcasting revenue and a countrywide economic slowdown left many clubs, some of which spent tens of millions on famous foreign players and coaches in the previous decade, struggling to stay solvent.

In March, eight teams in the top 3 tiers of Chinese soccer, including CSL club Guangzhou City, were disqualified by the Chinese Football Association (CFA) from competing due to financial problems. In January Wuhan Yangtze folded after being unable to pay salaries, becoming the fourth top tier club to cease business in four seasons.

Chinese soccer is also going through one of its periodical clean-ups of soccer officials.

“There is still a long way to go to eradicate the existence of unhealthy practices such as football gambling and to strengthen the education and oversight of young officials,” the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection of the Communist Party of China and the National Supervisory Commission said in December.

In March, the sports ministry announced probes into Wang Xiaoping, director of the Chinese Football Association’s Disciplinary Committee, and Huang Song of the body’s competition department as they were both “suspected of serious violations” of law and discipline. A month earlier, CFA president Chen Xuyuan was reportedly arrested on corruption charges.

“The soccer industry now has a number of problems, and it fails to live up to people’s expectations,” said Gao Zhidan, director of China’s General Administration of Sport in March. “Regarding the recent serious problems in the soccer sector, there’s a lot of soul-searching to do.… We must have systematic methods to tackle these problems bravely and fastidiously.”

It is a familiar story for fans but, after being starved of live soccer, will at least have something to take their minds off wider issues when the season begins. AP

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