Lack of spectators, rumors of black whistles, withdrawal of sponsors and disastrous performances in international competitions. China's soccer has been struggling for years, and there seems no end in sight as it was dealt another major blow on Tuesday.
Chinese Super League (CSL) club Wuhan Guanggu have been ejected from the top domestic league and fined 300,000 yuan ($44,000), the Chinese Football Association (CFA) announced.
It all started at the Sept 28 CSL match between Beijing Guoan and Wuhan Guanggu, where Wuhan's Chinese international defender Li Weifeng and Beijing's Lu Jiang were involved in a scuffle. On Oct 1 the CFA banned both players for 8 matches and fined them 8,000 yuan ($1,170) each.
Wuhan was furious with the suspension and announced their withdrawal from the league the following day.
"We made the decision because we must maintain the club's pride and be responsible for China's soccer and fans," said a statement released by Wuhan. "We hope that by pulling out of the league, people involved in soccer will become aware of the problems and help develop the sport."
Wuhan Guanggu's Li Weifeng plays during a Chinese Super League soccer match against Bejing Guo'an on September 28 in Beijing. Li and Beijing's Lu Jiang were involved in a scuffle that led to penalties on both players by Chinese Football Association. Wuhan then protested the penalties and announced its withdrawal from the league immediately. Zhong Ti
The CFA, however, chose not to compromise and canceled all of Wuhan's remaining fixtures this season.
Thousands of fans that had gone to watch the canceled match protested against the CFA decision.
According to a CFA official, Wuhan was fully responsible for the penaltation.
"We were trying to communicate with the club and hoped it would come back to the league," said Nan Yong, vice president of the CFA. "But all the negotiations failed and we are sorry (for the result)."
Wuhan Guanggu's registration in the CFA was also canceled, meaning the club cannot even compete in a lower division.
A Wuhan official said the club will not give up and has decided to appeal against the CFA's decision.
"We will do what we have planned. We will deal with the jobs of coaches, players and other staff after the suspension," said Xu Zhiqiang, the Wuhan manager. "Meantime, we will consult with lawyers about the possibility of suing the CFA. The CFA has the right to ban us and we also have the right to appeal. We do not accept the fine and will not give one cent to the CFA."
Wuhan chairman Shen Liefeng also refused to accept the punishment.
"It's like pouring oil on flames," said Shen. "We will definitely seek legal action. We aim to show that the CFA's ban on Li Weifeng was incorrect."
But some are not so hopeful, and see this as potentially the end for professional football in the area.
"At the first, the club just tried to put some pressure on the CFA. It did not expect to be ejected from the CSL," said a Wuhan coach, who refused to be identified.
"Soccer in Hubei has been developing very well in the previous few years and should have a bright future. But now it's all over in one night."
Local media have attacked the CFA for what they describes as a "ridiculous" decision.
"The CFA did not make the decision according to the rules. It has lost the trust of the public," said Titan Sports commentator Ma Dexing. "The CFA is the governing body and it should take responsibility for the outcome."
It is feared that more clubs might threaten to pull out of the league if the CFA continues to deal with on-field offenses in the same way.
Adding to the woes of a bad week for Chinese soccer, FIFA's latest rankings were released on Wednesday, where China slumped to 96th, and only 11th in Asia.