Violence on the pitch and the multi-million dollar merger of Shanghai's two
top clubs have dominated the run-up to this weekend's start of the fourth
Chinese Super League (CSL) season.
Last month's brawl between China's under-21 team and English club Queens Park
Rangers was another blow to a sport which one team owner last year described as
riddled with match-fixing, gambling, corruption, biased reporting, strikes, rude
crowds, drugs, prostitution, debts and falling standards.
A friendly between Chongqing and Dalian Shide a week later was also abandoned
because of fighting and violence on the pitch was a major talking point at the
pre-season meeting of officials.
"Discipline is a key issue of the meeting," CSL director Ma Chengquan told
"All infractions -- no matter whether from players, coaches or officials --
will be seriously punished."
Spokesman Dong Hua said on Thursday that contrary to media reports, the
Chinese Football Association (CFA) had not received a directive from world
governing body FIFA about violence and the inquiry into their players' role in
the QPR incident was ongoing.
"The CFA has always stressed on stopping the violence on pitch ... It's a
long-time and routine requirement, not because of some particular cases," he
"Violence is very bad. It also happens everywhere, not only in China and
England. The CFA has constantly emphasised discipline."
Online gaming mogul Zhu Jun's 150 million yuan ($19.37 million) takeover of
Shanghai Shenhua and subsequent merger with his Shanghai United club forced a
reduction of the league to 15 teams and a last-minute re-jig of the fixture
The new team will play under the name of twice champions Shenhua and be
coached by Uruguayan Osvaldo Gimenez, who has little time to blend the talents
of the two squads as he attempts to improve on Shenhua's second place last
Last year's double winners Shandong Luneng are favoured to repeat their title
triumph even without their influential playmaker Zheng Zhi, who has moved to
England with Charlton Athletic.
Crowned champions five matches before the end of the season, Shandong have
retained the services of the league's top scorer Li Jinyu and should be strong
enough to see off the challenge from Shenhua, Beijing Guo'an and eight-times
The CSL looks likely to kick off without a title sponsor after Iphox, which
came in at the 11th hour last season, withdrew from a multi-year commitment
because of problems with licensing their products in China.
The CFA is still hopeful of securing another last-minute deal and media
reports have said that Zhu has promised them a major sponsor within three rounds
of the start of the season.
The season will pause in late May and again in June to allow the national
team to prepare for July's Asian Cup finals and will conclude in November.
Ma said a trouble-free season would be soccer's contribution to the nation's
preparations for the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
"Next year is the year of the Olympics, the CFA definitely wants to guarantee
this season will pass in a stable fashion," he said.