Violence & merger overshadow new China season

Updated: 2007-03-02 09:09

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 Beijing News.

"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 said.

"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 list.

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 season.

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 champions Dalian.

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.

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