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'Salary cap' eyed for soccer imports

By Sun Xiaochen (China Daily) Updated: 2017-01-07 06:56

As China's lavish soccer clubs continue to sign foreign stars for staggering sums of money, the country's top sports body is considering imposing a "salary cap" to restrict excessive spending for more sustainable development of the domestic league.

A ceiling on the investment in player transfers and salaries should be set to curb the mounting financial burden on the clubs, the General Administration of Sport of China, the country's top sports body, said in a proposal released on Thursday. It also said more transparent financial auditing of clubs should be conducted.

"A series of issues, such as clubs spending excessively on overpriced foreigners while neglecting investment in youth training, have been hampering the long-term development of the game," it said in the statement.

Chinese soccer clubs spent $363 million on star imports early last year, followed by the arrival of another costly foreign legion in December, including Brazilian midfielder Oscar and Argentine striker Carlos Tevez, to the Chinese Super League.

On Dec 23, Oscar was signed by CSL's Shanghai SIPG from English Premier League giant Chelsea for $63.5 million, eclipsing the previous record for a transfer fee of $58.9 million paid by SIPG for his compatriot Hulk in July.

Shanghai Greenland Shenhua, another CSL club in the city, announced three days later the signing of Tevez, a former Manchester City striker, from Argentine club Boca Juniors for $11 million for a two-year contract.

With CSL's winter transfer window open until Feb 28, more expensive signings are expected.

Some established overseas professional leagues, such as the National Basketball Association, have long implemented a similar restriction system, better known as a "salary cap", to keep investment of each club within a reasonable range.

However, it would be difficult for the Chinese league to cap itself at the moment, despite the good intention, said observers.

"The sentiment is a positive thing, as the spending is clearly way out of control. It's a good thing that people in power look to try to control the spending," said Mark Dreyer, founder of the China Sports Insider website.

"The problem is that it's extremely hard to institute a cap to an existing league, and to get it right with the amount," he said.

"The salary cap constantly changes in overseas leagues (based on league incomes). To bring it in existing leagues with players already fixed on contracts of multiple years is very tricky," he said.

Tan Jianxiang, a sports sociology expert at South China Normal University, said that clubs could still bypass the mandatory ceiling by compensating their star players in the name of training or traffic subsidies.

"The administration should focus more on making policies to inspire more investment in youth development rather than dictating the financial operation of the league," he said.

The administration also said in the statement that CSL Co should allocate funding from its annual revenue to support the development of reserve teams and youth leagues.


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