Chinese Super League set to kick off in late June

BEIJING (AP) — The Chinese Super League is reportedly set to kick off in the last week of June, two weeks after lower-tier leagues are scheduled to begin in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic that has shut down sports globally.

Chinese state media report the top-flight season could begin June 24 if case numbers continue to subside, while the People’s Daily newspaper reported the proposed starting date as June 27 in a Twitter post yesterday.

The 16-team league is likely to play a compressed, conference-style competition to make up for the time lost while China was locked down after being the epicentre of the virus outbreak.

The number of new cases of COVID-19 in China has been on the decline and domestic travel restrictions are being gradually eased. But the borders remain closed to non-citizens, meaning some of the high-profile foreign players and coaches could be absent when the league gets underway.

There has been speculation that fans will be allowed into stadiums from when the league commences, unlike other parts of the world where play in some sports has resumed or is set to begin in empty venues.

The head of the Chinese football association last week said clubs should implement temporary player pay cuts of 30 per cent to 50 per cent to help teams manage losses from the coronavirus outbreak, suggesting sensible negotiations over the contracts.

China’s national squad began a training camp earlier this week in Shanghai, complete with three foreign-born players who have been naturalised to qualify for international competition.

China’s Head Coach Li Tie told national news agency, Xinhua, that he hoped to “leverage this period of time to make our players restore their state on the pitch”.

Li said games against club teams Shanghai Shenhua and Shanghai SIPG was part of the pre-season training plan.

File photo of Guangzhou Evergrande FC’s Zheng Long and Sanfrecce Hiroshima’s Tsukasa Shiotani during their match for the third place at the FIFA Club World Cup soccer tournament in Yokohama, Tokyo. PHOTO: AP