Top-tier Chinese football club Chongqing Liangjiang Athletic folded on May 24 after the pandemic deepened its debt woes. AFP
The season will finally see action three months later than usual in three neutral cities, as China sticks to a strict zero-Covid strategy that has meant tens of millions of people have been locked down in cities such as business hub Shanghai.
Analysts had expected the Chinese Super League (CSL) season to begin in empty stadiums, but organisers said spectators will be allowed at the opening match when defending champions Shandong Taishan play Zhejiang in the southern city of Haikou on June 3.
"We hope to bring more confidence to the sports industry through our efforts," Xinhua news agency reported Saturday citing CSL chairman Liu Jun.
"During such special circumstances, the opening of the CSL is of great significance to the whole football industry."
Liu said local authorities in the three host cities, the other two are Dalian on China's east coast and Meizhou in the south -- have "made great efforts" to ensure that the games are not interrupted by virus outbreaks.
Players and staff from the CSL clubs were quarantined for three weeks in their hotels before being allowed to enter each city's virus-secure bubble, Chinese media reported.
"Organisers also expect that the local governments of the three host cities will open up important matches to fans," Xinhua said, without saying how many fans would be allowed.
The CSL kicks off with 18 clubs this season, but without Chongqing Liangjiang who this month folded because of massive debt exacerbated by the pandemic.
The demise of Chongqing, where Jordi Cruyff was in charge in 2018-2019, dealt another blow to the fast-fading ambitions of China's football-fan president Xi Jinping.
It was the latest of succession of Chinese clubs synonymous with lavish spending to collapse in recent years, including 2020 CSL champions Jiangsu Suning.
Despite successfully holding the Winter Olympics in a Beijing closed bubble in February, China this month pulled out of hosting the Olympics-sized Asian Games in Hangzhou later this year.
The country then quit as hosts of football's Asian Cup next year after spending billions of dollars to build eight new stadiums and revamp two others for the tournament.
The national team failed to reach this year's World Cup in Qatar, having only qualified once in their history, in 2002, where they lost all three group games without scoring a goal.
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