While there is no set date for the Chinese Super League (CSL) to start its long-postponed season, foreign football players who are playing for CSL teams are finding ways to return to China while the country imposes travel bans against most foreign nationals.
Three players and one coach on the CSL team Dalian Professional Football Club were able to enter China via a special flight from Stockholm to Dalian. Salomón Rondón, Sam Larsson, and Marcus Danielson took a private business jet from Sweden together with Dalian Pro Manager Rafael Benítez. The four team members took VistaJet 878 directly to Dalian to prepare for the upcoming Chinese Super League matches.
The Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs imposed a travel ban in an attempt to stop the spread of COVID-19 in the country in March. Most foreign passport holders are not permitted to enter China regardless of their visa status. While China claimed to have significantly lower numbers of cases in the following months, the travel restrictions were not eased and remained in place. Reuters reported in May that about 500 to 1,000 business executives from Germany were granted special privileges by the Chinese government to enter the country and can waive the 14-day mandatory quarantine period if they are able to provide a negative coronavirus test.
However, foreign players who play for CSL teams and Chinese Basketball Association (CBA) teams are not granted any special treatments at the border. According to local media reports, the four athletes received new visas and were permitted to enter China.
The latest developments are dramatically different from the Chinese Football Association updates a few weeks ago. On May 20, officials from the Chinese Football Association denied putting any requests to have foreign players enter the country via special paths.
Chinese sports journalist Bai Guohua reported that despite having a travel ban in place from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in March, foreign coaches and players can apply to enter China. Their teams will need to get approval from their respective provincial-level governments and apply for new working visas at the Chinese embassy.
Teams that are based in direct-administered municipalities will have fewer issues as they only need to deal with one level of government. For example, the Beijing Ducks and Beijing Guoan only need to communicate with officials from Beijing to seek waivers for their foreign players, but teams such as Xinjiang Flying Tigers in the CBA and Guangzhou Evergrande in the CSL, will need to seek approval from both their municipal government and the provincial government above that.
“It is a hard process, yet it is still possible. But of course, coming to China right now is expensive,” Bai said on his personal Weibo.
The absence of foreign players has become a critical issue that the CSL has yet to solve. Different from most of the CBA teams which have two foreign players at most, CSL teams may have 7 foreign players on the team, 5 to register in a match, and 4 entering a match at the same time. Teams without foreign players are going to have major issues in executing their plays and maintaining their levels of competitiveness. The travel ban and absence of foreign players are also major reasons for the CSL’s indefinite delay.
According to reports from Sina Sports, there are 36 foreign players from more than 20 countries who have yet to return to China. CSL team Qingdao Huanghai F.C. was forced to terminate its contract with its former head coach Juanma Lillo. Following the successful experience from Dalian Professional F.C., it is likely that other teams will approach the issue with the same path to bring their players back to the country.
The future of the 2020 CSL is now unclear as another wave of COVID-19 cases started to strike in the nation’s capital starting last weekend. As of June 16, Beijing recorded a cumulative 106 new cases in a five-day period. Beijing is currently putting all sports events on hold until further notice. The policy will have a greater impact on Beijing Guoan, which is based in the city’s worker stadium for its home games in the CSL. As COVID-19 continues to develop in Beijing, players from Beijing Guoan F.C. are now suspending their regular practices and all team players are being tested.
The latest COVID-19 cases in Beijing also increased the uncertainties of restarting the country’s professional sports events. While Beijing increased restrictive measures on containing the spread of the virus, many fear that the second wave of COVID-19 is coming soon.
Chinese media Guangzhou Daily reported that the Chinese Football Association has yet to be able to produce a reopening match that all parties agree. Officials from Chinese Football Associations proposed a plan to have 2020 CSL games in Shanghai and Guangzhou, but such proposals were rejected by the country’s Sports Administration governing bodies, which asserted that the CSL cannot be hosted in any provincial capitals or direct-administrative municipalities.
On the contrary, the Chinese top-level basketball tournament CBA will resume its season in Qingdao and Dongguan. Neither cities are provincial capitals nor direct-administrative municipalities.