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Renaming rules spell dilemma for Super League teams

By SHI FUTIAN | China Daily | Updated: 2020-12-07 10:53
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A Lan (right) celebrates scoring for Beijing Guo'an against FC Seoul on Nov 22. Next season the Chinese club is expected to play under a new name in compliance with CFA rules. XINHUA

In a move that has stoked resistance from fans, the Chinese Football Association is reportedly pushing the nation's professional clubs to change their names to more "neutral" monikers.

According to Soccer News, the CFA discussed plans to alter teams' names at a meeting with Chinese Super League clubs in Suzhou, Jiangsu province, late last month.

The governing body reportedly wants to eliminate any corporate references in team names. Dalian Pro is currently the only club among the 16-team top tier to not feature a sponsor or investor in its name.

Late last year, the CFA ordered all clubs to conclude their renaming process in time for the 2021 season, warning those that didn't would be disqualified from the campaign.

Now China's big guns have been delivered a fresh ultimatum, with the likes of 2020 CSL champion Jiangsu Suning, eight-time CSL winner Guangzhou Evergrande, 2017 champion Shanghai SIPG and capital club Beijing Guo'an all facing a rebranding dilemma.

Suning is one of China's largest retailers, Evergrande is among the country's biggest property developers, while SIPG refers to Shanghai International Port Group. Beijing's top club gets his name from CITIC Guo'an Group, a conglomerate which founded the team.

The policy would have less impact on clubs such as Shanghai Greenland Shenhua and Shandong Luneng Taishan, who could simply delete the corporate elements-Greenland and Luneng-from their names.

When the CFA first mooted the rebranding plan, it indicated that teams whose names had been in existence prior to 2004 might be exempt from the new rules-providing the clubs could successfully argue that the names had become ingrained in Chinese soccer culture.

However, multiple media reported that clause is now off the table and was not mentioned during last month's Suzhou meeting.

While some clubs could conceivably revert to the city or province where they are based, the renaming process is particularly fraught for cities that have two top-tier teams-such as Shanghai (SIPG and Shenhua) and Guangzhou (Evergrande and R&F).

Teams could decide to mimic German clubs such as Schalke 04 or 1860 Munich, whose names reference the year of each club's establishment. Choosing nicknames such as those widely used in the Chinese Basketball Association league and American pro sports, is also an option.

To date, most clubs have remained silent on the issue. However, Shijiazhuang Ever Bright, which was relegated form the CSL last term, last week posted a notice on social media inviting fans to submit their ideas for a new name.

The club, which is owned by Ever Bright Group, said it has received thousands of suggestions, including Blue Wing, Blue Warriors and Shijiazhuang Men.

After years of devotion to their clubs, many fans have expressed their unease at the new policy, while some observers fear the move could hit clubs in the pocket if the corporate world deems the CSL a less attractive investment as a result.

"The name of a soccer club is its brand that has endured for a long time and earned the recognition of the fans and public," read a commentary by Sina Sports. "The real problem is that Chinese soccer remains financially unstable. The clubs still need investment from their parent companies."

On the other hand, many have argued that eliminating corporate titles from names allows clubs to build brands that are more robust and akin to European soccer giants such as Liverpool, Barcelona and Juventus.

Chinese clubs often have to grapple with name changes when a new owner is installed. Dalian Pro, for example, was previously known as Dalian Aerbin and Dalian Yifang.

"Beijing Guo'an has established and used its name for 28 years, and Henan Jianye has been established for 26 years," sports reporter Zhao Yu wrote on Weibo.

"The aim of the CFA regulations is to have names that can last very long and build clubs to last for a century. So will these names that have been accepted by the fans for nearly 30 years be changed?"

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