Improving the level of football a priority for China

Nick Mulvenney of Reuters reviews the problems of China's Super League (extracts):

A CSL team owner last year pithily summed up the league's problems as: "match throwing, gambling, corruption, biased reporting, strikes, rude crowds, violence, drugs, prostitution, debts, giving up, falling levels and the failure to qualify for the World Cup".

The CSL knows it faces an uphill battle to restore the name of the domestic top flight, where average crowds have dropped from 23,000 in 2000 to 10,000 last year. "First we must improve the level of the football," CSL general secretary Lang Xiaonong told [a] conference in Beijing last month."We must make it more exciting and more entertaining for fans. Frankly speaking, in 1996 and 1997 the football wasn't that good but we had a lot of fans and a lot of advertising."

But at that time we had not opened up the football industry to the outside world so fans did not know much about the high level of European football. That is not the case anymore and European football is very popular in China, with page after page of coverage devoted to it in sports newspapers. Matches are shown live on national television and Manchester United, Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Liverpool will all play in greater China this year, while Chelsea are planning a trip in 2008.

Lang said the CSL generated 930 million yuan ($121.4 million) in revenue last year, with sponsorship accounting for 72 percent of the total and ticket sales a paltry 4.5 percent. Nine clubs were profitable, while six made a loss, he added ... China has found it hard to eradicate the memory of the 2003 "black whistle" scandal, which resulted in one of the country's top referees being jailed for 10 years for taking tens of thousands of dollars in bribes.