The Chinese Super League will return to the nation’s television screens next season, as part of yet another comprehensive plan to revitalise Chinese football.
CCTV5, China’s national sports channel, decided to cease coverage of the country’s best-supported pro sports league towards the end the 2008 in response to a disorderly occurence which took place during a Beijing Guoan – Wuhan FC match. CCTV bigwigs, and presumably all those tuning in at home, were left spluttering into their teacups in disgust when a fracas broke out between Wuhan’s big money signing Li Weifeng and Beijing’s Lu Jiang. The on-field rumpus which ensued led to the Hubei province-based team pulling out of the Chinese Super League in protest at the CFA’s decision to ban Li Weifeng for eight matches as punishment for his misdemeanours.
This, in addition to all the usual shenanigans which had plagued Chinese football for years, was the last straw for CCTV5 which felt giving the Chinese Super League any more airtime was an embarassment for all concerned.
It was a decision which was a little hard to understand. For one thing, Chinese Super League games continued to be broadcast on provincial TV channels, which tend to be the prefered option for local armchair fans anyway. And, all the various face-losing goings-on which had so irked CCTV, whilst not exactly covering the Chinese Super League in glory, were not significantly worse than those which can be found taking place in many other overseas leagues.
In effect, CCTV5 cut off its own nose to spite its face, instead of supporting the nation’s most popular sport, it effectively kicked it when it was down by reducing its advertising value and further tarnishing its already tardy image. It was in effect an own-goal – the decision laid the headline “China state sports channel drops its own football league” on a plate for foreign media who naturally jumped all over it. The whole affair appeared to be the result of an internal row between various Chinese government departments. But, of course, one can never be sure exactly why decisions are taken in China, especially those involving the CFA.
However, signs of reconcilliation appeared last week, when a delegation of senior officials, led by Chinese sports deputy chief Cai Zhenhua, went on a fact-finding trip to study the Japanese football system, which is considered by most observers in Asia to be a model of success. Aside from discovering what most people already knew, namely, there is only a miniscule portion of China’s massive population actively playing football therefore the talent pool is deceptively shallow, the other main outcome was that it was decided CCTV5 would air Chinese Super League games again next year to raise the profile of Chinese domestic football.
Whilst this is hardly a revolutionary idea, for obvious reasons its a welcome development for the Chinese Super League, which appears to be making slow but steady steps towards its distant goal of becoming a relatively normal sports competition. Attendances are up, corruption allegations are down, and the entertainment value on the pitch, for some teams at least, is undoubtedly high.
According to Sina Sports, a comprehensive Chinese Super League package will be shown, along with the CFA cup, lower league games, and possibly even University-level football. The exact details are yet to be worked out, but with Guangzhou’s riches and star players pumping up the Chinese Super League, 30,000-plus average crowds for some clubs, Dalian Wanda’s huge Chinese Super League sponsorship deal, and an all leagues-inclusive Toshiba CFA cup to look forward to next year, we can confidently say Chinese domestic football is on the up for the time being, even if the fruits of these developments may take many years to mature.