Chinese Super League’s Hebei FC on verge of collapse

Society & Culture

Financial woes threaten to bring down yet another club in China's top soccer league.

Shanghai Shenhua (red) vs. Hebei FC, Chinese Super League match, May 10, 2021. (Xinhua/Zhu Zheng)

Another Chinese soccer club is staring into the abyss. In February, the collapse of Jiangsu Suning, last season’s CSL champions, sent shockwaves through the Chinese soccer world. Now, Hebei FC may also be calling it quits.

The Chinese Super League (CSL) club has been unable to pay its utility bills at its training complex. On Wednesday, the club said it had dissolved its youth academy, with the under-12 to under-18 teams set to disband later this week.

The CSL — China’s top domestic soccer league — is currently on hiatus due to World Cup qualifying. It’s unclear what will happen with Hebei’s remaining games when the league resumes on December 1.

Hebei finished the first half of the season in fourth place in Group B, one point ahead of Shanghai Shenhua — meaning it qualified, just barely, for the eight-team “championship stage.” It’s unknown whether Shenhua could be bumped up from the “relegation stage” to take Hebei’s place.

Earlier last month, Hebei club official Láng Zhēng 郎征 told the media that the club has been struggling with debt, revealing that some of the coaching staff were forced to cover their own travel expenses when the club played Shaanxi Chang’an Athletic in the China FA Cup.

Hebei has fallen a long way from the heights it hit in 2018, when it lured star players such as former Barcelona icon Javier Mascherano and Argentine national footballer Ezequiel Lavezzi with big contracts.

The club is owned by China Fortune Land Development, another Chinese property developer up to its eyeballs in debt. Last month, the company announced a restructuring plan to help cope with around $42 billion worth of debt after billions of yuan in debt defaults nine months ago.

While not one of the biggest clubs in China, the Langfang-based club’s imminent demise should send warning signs to some of the other teams in the league. The last two years have seen several of China’s professional soccer clubs fold due to financial problems.

Fans of Guangzhou FC, China’s largest and most successful team, will be looking at the situation at Hebei with a close eye. Guangzhou’s parent company, Evergrande, is dealing with its own debt catastrophe.

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Enes Kanter calls out Nike

Following last week, Boston Celtics center Enes Kanter has continued to call out Chinese human rights abuses, calling for a boycott of Beijing 2022 and now also criticizing Nike for its alleged use of Uyghur “slave labor.”

In a video posted on his social media channels, the NBA player called on Nike to do more to fight against injustice in China. Kanter noted Nike’s campaigns against injustice in America, referencing #BlackLivesMatter and #StopAsianHate, but questioned why it hasn’t done anything involving Xinjiang, Tibet, and Hong Kong.

“Nike remains vocal about injustice here in America, but when it comes to China, Nike remains silent,” the 29-year-old told his followers.

“You do not address police brutality in China, you do not speak about discrimination against the LGBTQ community, you do not say a word about the oppression of minorities in China, you are scared to speak up.

“Who makes your shoes in China? Do you even know? There are so many forced labor factories in China. For instance, Uyghur forced labor, it is modern-day slavery, and it is happening right now in China.”

So far, the Chinese response to Kanter has been muted. Celtics games have been taken off the air in China, but there has not been the same level of response to Kanter as there was to Daryl Morey.

On Chinese social media, all searches of Kanter’s name have been blocked. However, the Celtics Weibo page was inundated with angry comments from Chinese users, with some demanding the club release the player.

“I’ve been an old Celtics fan for more than 10 years. After Kanter did this, I won’t support the Celtics team a single day any longer. Between my hobbies and my country, there’s no comparison,” wrote one user.

Meanwhile, one Boston Celtics fan page vowed to stop updating its feed. “From now on, our page will no longer report any information about the Boston Celtics, and our Weibo will stop updating! For any behavior that undermines harmony of the nations and the dignity of the motherland, we resolutely resist!”

Kanter ended his Nike video by inviting Nike founder Phil Knight, LeBron James, and Michael Jordan to fly to China to see the Xinjiang camps with him.

Neither Nike, nor James or Jordan, have responded.

In a follow-up tweet, Kanter also called for a boycott of the Beijing Olympics, calling Chinese president Xí Jìnpíng 习近平 an “insecure tyrant.”

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Other Stories:

Are Nike’s days in China numbered? (Jing Daily)

Xi’s Chinese football dream becomes a nightmare (The Times)

‘We are Hong Kong’: can the Olympics sidestep the politicisation of sport in China? (The Guardian)

Jeremy Lin watches Beijing Ducks after entering CBA bubble (SCMP)

Wu Lei: I think I can handle the pressure (Reuters)


The China Sports Column runs every week on SupChina.