A player from the Tianjin soccer club who led an attack on a referee last weekend was banned for life on Thursday.
The penalty on Tianjin's Zhao Shitong, who along with his teammates chased down a referee during a qualifying match against the archrival Beijing team at China's 11th National Games, is the most severe punishment imposed by the Chinese Football Association (CFA) in the sport's history.
Zhao ran after referee He Zhibiao for over 100 meters after the referee red-carded three Tianjin players in the action-packed match, arousing unexpected fury among Tianjin players. But it's Zhao who behaved badly and even pushed the referee down to the ground.
The melee lasted about 20 minutes before security guards controlled the situation.
CFA said the referee was right to hand out three red cards to Tianjin players after a review of game footage. The governing body also said the referee did not make any major mistakes before doling out the three red cards.
"We did not see any unfair calls from the referee and we will not impose any punishment on him," the CFA said in a statement.
Zhao was banned for life from any activity related to soccer while several of his teammates were also handed lengthy bans for their part in the attack.
Tianjin, the local Chinese Super League club, were also disqualified from the tournament.
Goalkeeper Li Gen and midfielder Hao Tengjiao, who chased the referee off the pitch, were each given three-year bans.
Two other players were banned for 30 months; two received two-year bans; one was booted for 10 matches and another for five matches. An official from Tianjin was also banned for a year.
The CFA hopes to use the harsh punishments as a warning call to other teams to maintain order in Chinese soccer, whose reputation has been tarnished by scandals such as match-fixing and violence on and off the court.
"We hope other teams will learn from this and behave themselves on and off the court," the CFA said in a statement. "CFA will continue to take heavy action on similar offenses."