Chinese football fans join forces to challenge club name-changes

SHANGHAI (AFP) – Fans of five rival Chinese football clubs have joined forces to condemn a controversial FA ruling that could see their teams made to change their names for next season.

Under a so-called “neutral name” edict that said clubs have to remove references to investors and companies that own them, almost all 16 Chinese Super League (CSL) teams reportedly face having to rebrand.

It is part of a wide-ranging football reform policy in China stretching back to 2015 designed to increase interest and make the country a major force in the sport.

But it has infuriated fans who, in some cases, have never known their team to be called anything else.

The Beijing News said last month that, with the exception of Rafael Benitez’s Dalian Pro – short for People’s Professional Football Club – “most clubs are currently facing a name adjustment.”

Supporter clubs from CSL sides Henan Jianye, Tianjin Teda, Beijing Guoan and Shanghai Shenhua, together with second-tier Zhejiang Greentown, put rivalries aside to slam a policy they said failed to listen to fans of some of China’s most established teams.

“Football is a culture and a football club is not a simple enterprise, it is a cultural symbol of a city or a region,” they said in an open letter to the Chinese Football Association titled, “Abandoning tradition is tantamount to cutting off our spiritual lifeline”.

They said they broadly support the policy but believe exceptions should be made where teams have had the same name for more than two decades.

For example, Tianjin Teda have carried the name of state-owned local enterprise Teda since 1998.

“Your team is an emotional thing for the fans who stand on the terraces all year round,” the letter said.

“The team name, logo and colour are all part of it.”

Some teams, including Guangzhou R&F, have asked fans what they should be called for next season’s CSL.

Fans of Guangzhou Evergrande are among those that will see their club’s name changed. PHOTO: AFP