China to promote football reform despite COVID-19 pandemic, says CFA boss Chen

As the 2020 Chinese Super League (CSL) season came to an end here on Thursday, the Chinese Football Association (CFA) president Chen Xuyuan voiced his satisfaction with the tournament, which saw zero COVID-19 infections, urging further football reform in the country despite the pandemic.

“As I mentioned in late July when the postponed league kicked off, the paramount issue was to ensure the safety of the tournament. Our organizers have fulfilled this mission, which is a showcase that life is gradually back to normal in our country,” Chen told Xinhua.

In order to prevent and control the epidemic, the 2020 CSL, which ran from July 25 to November 12, was played in a tournament format in which 16 teams were divided into two divisions and all players and staff were confined to the “Blue Area” which includes only hotels, training centers and parts of the stadiums. Chen revealed that it’s highly possible that the next CSL season will continue to use the tournament format.

“We still have to be cautious about the virus. Now we have the experience to operate the league in this format so the schedule of the following season will be more flexible and players don’t need to be isolated for such a long period of time any more,” he noted.

The head of the Chinese football governing body also expressed his gratitude to the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) for moving the opening date of the Asian Champions League (ACL) from November 13 to 18, giving four Chinese clubs one week for preparations.

“CFA has a very good relationship with the AFC. The epidemic prevention plan of the upcoming ACL in Qatar referred to the CSL precaution plan. The CFA has given special support to make sure our clubs are present in this year’s ACL,” Chen said.

The 64-year-old, who took office in August last year, noted that he will continue to promote football reform following the general plan published by the Chinese government in 2015.

“Our professional league can barely achieve sustainable development, as you can see a total of 16 clubs have withdrawn from professional football in May due to financial crisis. The CFA will implement more policies to limit salary and expenditure,” he said, adding that the independent operation of the CSL, like the Premier League in England, will be realized next year.

Taking the youth development as the priority of the CFA, Chen said the quantity and quality of football coaches in China can’t meet the needs from the young players. “We are planning to cultivate more coaches who are specialized in youth football and build a football training center for elite young players.”

According to the AFC, all matches of the second round of 2022 World Cup Asian qualifiers should be completed in June 2021. “If the matches are going to be played in a tournament format, the CFA will definitely apply to host it.”

“We are going to build a task force for our national team to collect and share information,” Chen said.

The Chinese men’s national team currently sits in second place in the five-team Group A with seven points from four games, eight points behind group leader Syria, and is in danger of missing out on the final round of the Asian qualifiers.