Unable to pay players and staff, Chongqing Liangjiang withdrew from the Chinese Super League just over a week before the start of delayed season in yet another setback for the domestic soccer scene.
In an unwanted echo of the build-up to the 2021 season, when champion Jiangsu FC folded, Chongqing announced Tuesday that it was financially unable to continue and could play no part in the season that is scheduled to kick off on June 3.
“After careful deliberation by the club’s shareholders, we very regretfully decided to withdraw from the league and disband the team,” the club said in a statement. “Thanks to all the players and staff for their hard work.”
A Chinese court was told earlier this month how Chongqing’s players had gone 16 months without getting properly paid.
“From 2019, we have been subjected to the miseries caused by unpaid salaries,” the players wrote in an open letter. “Our consistent, quiet and wholehearted commitment has been rewarded by lip service that did not come to anything.”
In contrast to the lavish sums spent on famous foreign players in the previous decade — the high point came in 2016-17 when the Chinese Super League was the biggest spender in the transfer market — soccer in China is facing severe financial issues.
An economic downturn has impacted the bottom line of a number of companies that bankroll Chinese clubs and the effects of the pandemic, which has resulted largely empty stadiums for games for the past two seasons, has made the situation worse.
Last year it was reported that Evergrande, the Chinese property developer that financed Guangzhou FC, the country’s most successful club, was in a debt crisis with more than $300 billion in liabilities.
Three months after being relegated from the top tier competition, Qingdao FC announced in April it was no longer operating. Players from other clubs, including Cangzhou Mighty Lions, have complained publicly about not being properly paid.
China’s zero-COVID policy has led to strict lockdowns, disrupting the domestic soccer season that usually starts in March.
After delaying the start of the CSL, the Chinese Football Association announced the season would be played in three hubs: Dalian, Haikou and Meizhou.
The league had planned to expand from 16 to 18 teams for the new season, leading to reports that that Dalian Pro may be promoted to fill the gap left by Chongqing.
News of Chongqing’s withdrawal follows the announcement earlier this month that China was relinquishing its right to host the 2023 Asian Cup.
Last month the Asian Games, an Olympic-scale multi-sport event due to be held September in the city of Hangzhou, were postponed and the East Asian Football Championships switched to Japan.
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John Duerden, The Associated Press