There are plenty of strange things that happen in Chinese soccer, but one trend is perhaps more bizarre than others: Moving games the whole way across the country for no good reason.
When the G20 came to Hangzhou in 2016, the local Chinese Super League (CSL) team was not allowed to play at home for an entire month, all because of two days of political meetings. But rather than have the team play down the road in, say, Shanghai, or even arrange the schedule to play away fixtures during that time, it was decided to have them play home games up in Dalian, about 1,200 kilometers north.
This time the authorities have done even better.
An AFC Champions League game had been scheduled between Tianjin Quanjian and Japan’s Kashima Antlers for September 18. But that’s the same date that the annual “Summer Davos” kicks off in Tianjin, so the teams have been booted all the way down to Macau, almost 2,000 kilometers away. With this kind of overreaction, it’s amazing that any games get played at all.
Talking of trends in Chinese soccer, another one appears to be hiring septuagenarian Europeans to coach the national team.
Not content with already having 70-year-old Marcelo Lippi masterminding China’s World Cup push for 2022 — for which he reportedly receives a mammoth $28 million each year — the Chinese Football Association has hired Dutch coach Guus Hiddink, 71, to oversee the Under 21 squad, the bulk of whom will represent China at the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. Hiddink is only being paid a measly $4.7 million per year (after tax), though, so don’t expect him to put much effort in.
One player who may be about to make his senior debut under Lippi is ethnic Uyghur midfielder Mirahmetjan Muzepper, who plays for Tianjin in the CSL. But here’s what Hiddink has to deal with: 19-year-old Erfan Hezim, another Uyghur player, has been on the national team’s radar in the past and was on the books of Jiangsu Suning earlier this season, but he was detained in February after having the audacity to train overseas — and hasn’t been heard from since.
The Asian Games wrapped up in Indonesia last weekend and were widely considered a success. But although China topped the medal table — for the nth straight time — things aren’t looking so great for China at the forthcoming Tokyo Olympics in 2020, where rivals Japan will undoubtedly receive the traditional home nation medal “bump.”
The Asian Games involves several non-Olympic sports, such as wushu and bridge, but in four disciplines identified by Japan as ones in which they could win medals at the Olympics — gymnastics, judo, swimming, and wrestling — Japan actually outperformed China by 81 medals to 78, with each nation winning 29 golds.
There are plenty of other Olympic sports, of course — and China will still dominate in diving and table tennis — but Japan had purposely avoided benchmarking themselves in events such as track and field, because Asian teams as a whole aren’t expected to win too many medals once the rest of the world joins in.
Chinese media had made a lot of noise about sprinter Su Bingtian ahead of the Asian Games — and even more noise when he won the 100m in an Asian record time of 9.92 seconds. But he and his teammates weren’t feeling so clever after losing to Indonesia and Japan in the men’s 4 x 100m relay final, while the women’s quartet were edged out by Bahrain. In other words, for all of China’s progress in athletics, expect medals to come from other sources in Tokyo.
Team China won’t win a medal in basketball in Tokyo, but Yao Ming’s controversial reforms of the sport already appear to be paying off. Earlier this year, the Houston Rockets legend divided the men’s national team squad in two — creating the Red team and the Blue team. The plan was that the two teams will alternate in international competitions before reuniting for the 2019 FIBA World Cup and the 2020 Olympics.
At the Asian Games, it was the turn of the Reds, whose star player is Zhou Qi, China’s only current NBA player. The Reds also competed in this year’s NBA Summer League. Meanwhile, the Blue team features former NBA player Yi Jianlian and recent Nike signing Guo Ailun, but they were left at home to watch the Asian Games on television.
Whatever you think of the Red-Blue divide — and it was widely ridiculed when it was announced — it hasn’t hindered Team China. China swept all four basketball golds, with the men and women winning both the usual 5-a-side version, as well as the newer 3×3 format. After taking home just one basketball silver four years ago at the last Asian Games, Yao’s move has already been vindicated, even though the main results should start to show once the Reds and the Blues combine for the first time. Expectations are rising for the Purples.
The Stanley Cup is coming to China.
Standing three feet tall and weighing an impressive 35 pounds, it’s arguably the most memorable trophy in all of sports. And while the Cup has previously been to 27 countries worldwide, it’s yet to make its debut in China. But that will change this weekend as the Cup tours the country ahead of the two NHL preseason games in Shenzhen and Beijing on September 15 and 19, respectively.
The trophy will start its tour in Beijing — including a trip to the Great Wall — before heading south for appearances in Hong Kong and Shenzhen. And where the Cup goes, so goes the “Keeper of the Cup,” Phil Pritchard, who probably has more drunken sports tales to tell than most.
That’s because Pritchard travels with the Cup each summer, as each member of that season’s winning NHL team gets to take it home for a day. Some have eaten spaghetti out of it, others have drunk vodka from it, a baby has even been christened in it — but those are just the publicly known ones. Fans in Beijing can meet Pritchard on Monday night here and see how many other stories he might spill.
Some further reading:
Why did the racing pigeons catch a high-speed train? It was all part of a fowl plot to earn $160,000 in prize money. https://t.co/izAFFycbyF
— Keith Bradsher (@KeithBradsher) August 29, 2018