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Cheng: Killing the chicken is okay, but time to do something about referees

After 90 minutes of missed chances & wasted time, Burak Yılmaz was frustrated and words/actions from Jiangsu Suning players made things even worse. He took a swing at one, received the rare post match red card, and I thought nothing of it, the incident was like countless ones I’ve seen over the years. When I woke up this morning and saw the story made foreign news, I was surprised, we’re truly in a new era.

I used to complain that the only time the foreign media ever bothered reporting on Chinese football was when there was a big transfer or a big corruption story, nowadays we can add whenever there is an incident of a player behaving badly to the list and the media reaction is extremely swift, made easier because more matches are being broadcast abroad.

This all comes on the heels of the Oscar incident a week ago when the Brazilian lost his head after he thought he was fouled and used the ball as a weapon, kicking it at two Guangzhou R&F players in quick succession. Oscar’s bad behavior incited what some media sources referred to as a “50 person brawl” and the video quickly went viral. Previously, Oscar lashed out in the same way during the Shanghai derby.

A four match suspension for the incident would have been in line with what players in similar incidents, including Zhou Ting a few seasons ago, received, but the CSL decided it had enough. The end result, to use a Chinese proverb, killed the chicken to scare the monkeys, as the CSL decided to hand down a whopping eight match suspension (as well as 7, 6, and 5 match suspension to the others involved).

Players behaving badly is an all too common occurrence and the higher ups in China, with the CSL’s newfound global reach, is sick of it. Indeed, the same weekend as the Oscar incident, there was an incident in the Beijing Guoan-Tianjin Teda match that saw a bit of handbags and one Tianjin player being sent off. Anyone who has been watching the CSL for awhile has been numbed to these kind of incidents as far too many times they have seen all 22 players (& often subs, coaching staffs, etc)  crowding around, pushing each other during an on-field melee.

One aspect of these incidents is that they almost always involve a foreign player and its easy to see how the foreigner or Chinese player, only knowing a few words of the other’s language, uses terms that worsen the situation. It’s the same sort of thing that leads to a Friday night bar fight (perhaps a foreigner too quick to drop a shabi, or a Chinese liberally using motherfucker).

But on a deeper level, these matters need to be controlled by the one most capable of doing so, the referees. The CFA can impose all the harsh, punitive actions it wants (this is the second time this year its done so), but until the standard of refereeing improves and they are more in control of matches, we’re likely to see incidents like this continue. Often, these ruckuses stem post-foul as players from both teams crowding the referee trying to influence his decision, something that happens far too often. Generally, referees are far too lenient until they aren’t, and by that time the game is already beyond their control. But on the most basic level, the quality of play has improved, the quality of foreigners has improved, but having done away with foreign referees (who weren’t always an improvement), we’ve yet to see any improvements when it comes to the CSL’s standards of refereeing.

With all the talk of improving the game and spending on grassroots football, the CFA needs to invest heavily in the unglamorous but very important job of training referees, old and new.

Brandon Chemers aka B. Cheng aka A Modern Lei Feng – is a name which may be familiar to many in the Chinese blogosphere. He currently serves as Editor-in-Chief for Wild East Football and is one of the lonely souls writing about Chinese football in English for the last 10 years. Chemers' credentials are second to none – his former blog focused not only on the fortunes of his beloved Beijing Guoan FC, but a multitude of other aspects of Beijing life. He’s deservedly built a reputation in the Chinese blogosphere as an insightful observer of not only Chinese football, but also the wider picture of life in modern China and its many layers. For WEF, beyond writing about Guoan, he often focuses on fan culture and the business of Chinese football.

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