Former Shanghai Shenhua striker calls out soccer for ignoring Uyghur plight

Society & Culture

In other Chinese soccer news, 2,000 live spectators were allowed to watch Beijing Guo'an play Shanghai SIPG in the Suzhou bubble. Meanwhile, Guangzhou Evergrande pulled out a 2-1 victory over Jiangsu thanks to Zheng Zhi, its 40-year-old team captain.

Former Shanghai Shenhua striker Demba Ba

Former Shenhua hitman Demba Ba has called out the soccer world for remaining silent in the face of China’s treatment of Uyghur Muslims.

In an interview with the BBC, the Senegalese forward talked about the difference between soccer’s willingness to promote the Black Lives Matter movement but stay silent on the matter of Xinjiang.

“The Black Lives Matter movement is stronger when non-black people step up for it,” Ba told the BBC. “When are we going to see the rest of the world stand up for Muslims?

“I have to try and organize something so football players can get together and, in the meantime, talk about this matter because not a lot of people want to.

“I know there are footballers who want to fight for justice, whether Muslim, Buddhist, Christian, any belief.

“As sportspeople, we have a power we don’t even know. If we get together and talk, things change. If we stand up, people stand up with us.”

It remains to be seen what effect Ba’s comments will have, or how China will respond. However, one this is clear: the Premier League bosses will be relieved that Ba, the ex-Newcastle United player, now earns his living in the Turkish League with Istanbul Basaksehir.

The Premier League was left scrambling after Arsenal midfielder Mesut Ozil denounced China on Twitter last year, and NBA games are still not broadcast on Chinese TV after Houston Rockets GM Daryl Morey tweeted “Free Hong Kong” last year.

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Live fans return as Guo’an slip up against SIPG

Suzhou CSL SIPG vs Beijing Guoan

Around 2,000 spectators finally got the chance to watch live action again as fans from Beijing and Shanghai made the trip to Suzhou to watch the headline clash in Group B.

The return of fans inside the stadium is part of the Chinese Super League’s ambitious plan to gradually bring back crowds throughout the rest of the season.

Each club only received an allocation of just 500 tickets, with 900 tickets given to local Suzhou soccer fans.

The supporters that did attend were required to wear masks, pass a temperature check, and show their health QR code — China’s COVID-19 tracking system. Fans from outside Suzhou were also forced to provide a negative COVID-19 test.

The game itself was a close affair, with SIPG coming from a goal down to take a 2-1 win over their rivals.

Brazillian international Oscar was the standout performer in the game. The 28-year-old grabbed the game by the scruff of its neck and dragged his team through the tie.

A 13th-minute Cedric Bakambu opening goal was neutralized after Wáng Shēnchāo 王燊超 headed in a goal from Oscar’s deft free kick 14 minutes later.

In the 75th minute, SIPG and Oscar grabbed the winner. The Brazillian connected with a superb pass to Austrian striker Marko Arnautovic, who squared the ball back to Oscar, who rocketed a shot into the goal.

The result handed Guo’an its first loss of the season, while undefeated SIPG leapfrogged Beijing to move to the top of Group B.

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At 40, Zhèng Zhì 郑智 is still thriving in Guangzhou Evergrande’s midfield — and may still be China’s best midfield playmaker

Zheng Zhi

By Dennis E. Yi

If not for its captain’s steady passes and fierce tackles coming off the bench on his 40th birthday, the 10-men Guangzhou Evergrande side could not have pulled off a vital 2-1 victory against Jiangsu Suning on Thursday.

But Zheng’s birthday performance has left plenty of observers confused: Why would Evergrande, the club that has long dominated the CSL, still need its 40-year-old captain to save it from the brink of defeat?

Zheng has had an eventful career. Eighteen years ago, he was bypassed for the 2002 World Cup roster, as China chose Lǐ Tiě 李铁 and Shào Jiāyī 邵佳一 over him. Four years after that, Zheng was briefly the most hated player in China for breaking the leg of French striker Djibril Cisse with a ruthless and unnecessary tackle, which directly ended Cisse’s World Cup prospects and Liverpool career. Zheng had a lackadaisical campaign with Celtic FC in 2009, leading the media to speculate he was “no longer relevant.”

But like fine wine (or Andre Pirlo), the older Zheng gets, the more indispensable he becomes for Chinese soccer.

From 2004 to 2019, he has played almost every single minute for China in major tournaments, which has also made him China’s longest-serving captain (2006-2018). Even in China’s embarrassing 3-0 rout against Iran (also Zheng’s last international game), he was the only Chinese player who could keep up with the opposition.

On the club level, he scored nine Premier League and League One goals and five assists during his two years as Charlton’s playmaker. In Evergrande, he is Paulinho’s best partner in the central midfield and the only Chinese player who can match the Brazilian’s rhythm. He agreed to step down from the starting lineup this season, not because his physical condition would not allow him to play at CSL’s intensity, but to provide more playing time for young players to build their confidence.

Since 2016, Zheng has been urging his club to work on finding his replacement, but to little success. Evergrande’s first choice was Xú Xīn 徐新, a defensive midfielder who used to play for Atletico’s youth team. Although he was more technically advanced than his local youth academy-trained peers, Xu’s lack of commitment and passion stopped him from reaching Zheng’s level.

Then there was Hé Chāo 何超, the wunderkind who Marcello Lippi described as “Zheng’s natural successor.” But He flopped horribly in Evergrande and was loaned out only half a season later.

Surprisingly, Evergrande’s most technical young midfielder, Zhāng Xiūwéi 张修维, who was crowned “the Chinese Modric” for his resemblance in hair and flair, has begun to pick up Zheng’s pragmatic and robust playing style, but still lacks the latter’s vital field awareness and defensive prowess.

The moment when Fabio Cannavaro looked to the Evergrande bench for a game-changer and found that he has no option except for Zheng illustrates something very awkward: At age 40, Zheng is still his club and country’s most reliable midfielder. Beneath the sound and the fury of all those record signings, Chinese soccer has made very little progress from what it was a decade ago.

Neither Xu Xin, He Chao, nor Zhang Xiuwei have lived up to the hype of being Zheng’s “successor.”


The China Sports Column runs every week on SupChina.