Jiangsu FC and the troubled state of Chinese soccer

Society & Culture

Chinese soccer is in disarray. But the financial woes of several of China's clubs — most notably Jiangsu FC, which announced yesterday it will "cease operations" despite winning Chinese soccer's top trophy just four months ago — has worrisome implications for the global soccer economy.

Jiangsu Suning during happier times.

Jiangsu FC won the Chinese Super League (CSL) in thrilling fashion last November, beating heavily favored Guangzhou Evergrande 2-1 in the final playoff game on goals from Italian international Éder and Brazilian winger Alex Teixeira. It was Jiangsu’s first title in club history.

And it will be Jiangsu’s only title. On Sunday — 108 days after reaching the top of professional Chinese soccer — the club announced it would “cease operations” immediately, citing financial problems. The announcement reportedly came on the club’s 27th anniversary. A team statement reads in part:

“However unwilling to bid farewell to players who have brought the club the highest honor and fans who have stuck with us through thick and thin, we have to announce with great regret that Jiangsu club will cease operation of teams at all levels while continuing to seek, in a wider scope, interested parties for the future development of the club.”

Jiangsu FC is owned by Suning Holdings Group, which has struggled to pay off debt in the past year. Xinhua reports:

Sources told Xinhua that retail giant Suning is in financial trouble and it will pivot its business away from sport.

“We will resolutely focus on retail business and close and cut down on anything irrelevant to retail,” Suning chairman Zhang Jindong had said before the Chinese New Year holiday.

Jiangsu’s women’s team and youth teams are also shutting down. Reuters reports that “a post on Jiangsu’s official WeChat account expressed hope of new backers or that a ‘company of insight’ would be willing to consult on the team’s future.” For now, though, it appears the Nanjing-based club that once employed ex-England manager Fabio Capello will be no more.

The news has troubling implications for the soccer world. Suning also owns the Italian club Inter Milan, currently sitting atop the standings in Serie A.

A Suning source told BBC that Jiangsu’s disbanding won’t affect Inter, but there’s concern in Europe that Chinese investment in European soccer may be drying up. Inter is reportedly looking for other sources of money to pay off its ample wage bills.

As far as Chinese soccer goes, the concern runs much deeper. A country’s top league is not supposed to lose its champion less than four months after that team’s crowning achievement. A healthy league isn’t supposed to lose any teams to financial difficulty, but the CSL may be losing three clubs in less than one year. Tianjin Tianhai declared bankruptcy last May, and Tianjin Tigers FC, owned by TEDA, are at serious risk of disbanding. Furthermore, Jiangsu is the second Chinese club to drop out of the Asian Champions League, after Shandong Luneng, which won the Chinese FA Cup, was kicked out of the competition last month due to “overdue payables.”

Chinese teams are not doing well. There was an influx of professional teams in the past five years, but many of these were formed by bosses who wanted local political connections. And then there’s the wild overspending. The CSL instituted a salary cap for the upcoming 2021 season at $90 million, but this long overdue measure came too late. Per Xinhua: “CFA [Chinese Football Association] statistics showed that the average annual expenditure for CSL clubs was about 1.1 billion yuan (about 170 million U.S. dollars) in the 2018 season, with the majority of them facing losses.” Before the 2020 season, 11 of the country’s 64 professional clubs were disqualified from competition due to financial woes.

After Jiangsu FC’s announcement, the CFA released a statement that read: “Despite feeling sorry, we respect the decision…We will continue to reform our operations for the progress of Chinese football.”


Jeremy Lin: “Being a 9 year NBA veteran doesn’t protect me from being called ‘coronavirus’”

Jeremy Lin, currently on the roster of the Santa Cruz Warriors of the G League (the NBA’s minor league), says he has been called “coronavirus” on the court. On Friday, he posted on his Facebook page:

Being an Asian American doesn’t mean we don’t experience poverty and racism.

Being a 9 year NBA veteran doesn’t protect me from being called “coronavirus” on the court.

Being a man of faith doesn’t mean I don’t fight for justice, for myself and for others.

So here we are again, sharing how we feel. Is anyone listening?

The G League is investigating Lin’s claim, ESPN reports. Golden State head coach Steve Kerr said he’d like to see the NBA also step in.

“I just saw the Facebook post just now,” Kerr said. “Really powerful. I applaud Jeremy for his words and echo his sentiments regarding racism against the Asian American community. It’s just so ridiculous and obviously spawned by many people, including our former president [Donald Trump], as it relates to the coronavirus originating in China. It’s just shocking. I don’t know — I can’t wrap my head around any of it, but I can’t wrap my head around racism in general.”

Lin has missed the Santa Cruz Warriors’ last five games due to a lingering back injury. He played last season for the Chinese Basketball Association’s Beijing Ducks, nearly leading the team to a semifinals upset of the eventual champions, the Guangdong Southern Tigers, despite getting beat up all series.


Other stories:

The UFC Stars Kicking Chinese Martial Arts Into a New Era (Sixth Tone)

Beijing 2022: Boris Johnson rejects boycott call over Uighur ‘genocide’ (BBC)

Beijing Olympics update via Mark Dreyer:

I don’t actually think the Tokyo Olympics have much bearing on Beijing, although if Tokyo progresses as (currently) planned, it would be staggering to see Beijing subsequently called off. I’ve heard talk that if Tokyo is scrapped, then Beijing will be too, but personally I think a Tokyo cancellation would only make China even more determined to host their Games.

(China Sports Insider)

Beijing 2022 begins series of adapted test events ahead of Winter Olympics and Paralympics (Inside the Games)

The 2008 Olympics was a soft power victory for Beijing. A successful Games in 2022 could validate its authoritarian system. (CNN)

“The 2020-21 CBA All-Star Weekend will be staged from March 20-21 in Qingdao of north China’s Shandong province, announced the CBA League Sports Company on Saturday.” (Sina)

And finally… Last week, Cameron Wilson of Wild East Football announced his return. This past week, Jon Pastuszek of NiuBBall — once the premier site for English-language Chinese basketball news — announced he’s officially written his last post.

Pastuszek, writing from Paris:

It remains my personal preference to keep NiuBBall alive and online. People still do reach out for questions on Chinese basketball, and I am happy to respond and help where I can. Our archive of content is still referenced periodically for journalistic and academic purposes, as English-language resources on Chinese basketball are still in pretty short supply.

Jon and I sort of came up together in the blogging world in Beijing back in 2010, so I’ll always remember his website fondly. In its heyday, with its daily posts, NiuBBall was the best place to follow Chinese basketball. But all good things must come to an end. At least we’ll always have memories of the Beijing Ducks’ first Stephon Marbury-led championship.

The China Sports Column runs every week on SupChina.