Flouting of transfer and contract rules highlights ugly side of beautiful game
The development of soccer is being stunted by the Chinese Football Association's refusal to follow international guidelines governing transfers and contracts, according to the leading international organisation protecting players' rights.
The Asian branch of FIFPro also claims the poor treatment of Chinese players fosters a poor attitude that blights both the domestic and international game.
'We see the poor conditions for Chinese players as an urgent issue to be resolved,' FIFPro Asia chairman Brendan Schwab says. 'We see it as a tragedy for Asia, because we are dealing with potentially the biggest footballing nation in the region, which cannot get past the first phase of qualifying for the World Cup.'
Schwab is locked in talks with soccer authorities to end China's draconian transfer rules and help set up a 'voice for players'.
He says: 'We are trying to get the CFA to implement a minimum contract standard and a transfer system that complies with international standards at the domestic level.
'Under present rules, players who want to move are banned from playing for another club for up to 30 months, which results in fitness problems, unemployment and a premature end to careers.
'When the CFA opened the transfer window at the end of June, 121 players from 29 clubs were listed for transfer, while 13others were listed as available for loan. A majority of them, if not all, are fringe players who haven't played first-team football for a long time because of the transfer rules,' says David Yang, from the China Sports Review.
The CFA's rules breach the international minimum standard that follows the Bosman ruling, which allows freedom of movement for any player aged 23 and over and out of contract.
'The CFA fails to use the Bosman rule and this has been contrary to the development of football in China,' Schwab says.
'We are trying to get the CFA to implement a minimum contract standard and a transfer system that complies with international standards at domestic level.'
State media reports say the CFA argues otherwise, claiming its rules prevent an exodus of players to rich clubs. But it did not answer interview requests from Sunday Morning Post.
FIFPro says that the laws are 'confusing' and do not extend to those players who signed for overseas clubs, as was proved earlier this year.
Shandong Luneng midfielder Zhou Haibin was finally allowed to sign for Dutch side PSV Eindhoven in February after Fifa, world soccer's governing body, intervened.
Fifa said his Chinese club did not have a right to insist the 23-year-old player remain inactive for 30 months as his transfer had an 'international dimension'.
The club and the CFA appealed, but were rebuked and forced to follow Fifa's ruling - a move that could now see an exodus of players overseas and further weaken the attractiveness of the domestic league.
Foreign players in China also face problems. This year has seen a record 26 international players complain to Fifa and FIFPro.
'Many foreign players get around changing clubs by signing for a short time with an overseas team during registration windows. Then they return,' Schwab reveals.
'At least foreign players have access to arbitration. Chinese players do not enjoy the same. Most importantly, we are seeking a voice for Chinese players.'
Schwab says FIFPro wanted the CFA to establish a players' association and dispute chamber like those in other countries.
'Chinese players need a voice because we have received a large number of cases - the highest in the world - from China,' he says.
However, Chinese laws forbid such union-orientated organisations and the opinions of players are rarely courted, Yang says. Players' welfare comes way down the CFA's list of priorities, he claims.
'Zhang Shuai, a former Beijing Guoan player, was accused of taking bribes for scoring an own goal when they played Shanghai last year,' Yang says. 'He was then sent to the reserve team. Zhang was capped for China in the South Africa World Cup qualifiers the same year, but he decided to quit at the age of 27 to prove his innocence. And no one cared.
'Clubs also prevent players leaving by setting unrealistic transfer prices.'
Compared with their international peers, Chinese players are treated poorly, with modest wages, strict training regimes and poor living conditions - all of which leads to under-par performance on the pitch, Schwab says.
'One thing that really surprises us about the Chinese players is how undisciplined they are. And we have seen this with Chinese players when they play in other countries. People would expect them to be regulated in their discipline, but they are not,' he says.
'Their general environment is not conducive to success. What parent would want their son to become a footballer with such poor prospects? The players are being asked at the age of 13 or 14 by the football authorities to give up on their education to train. China is the only country to do this.
'Few parents allow their children to pursue football. So when you see the figures about the huge talent pool of 1.3billion, that is not true. There are very few kids allowed or encouraged to enter the game given its poor reputation.'
He says FIFPro believes the issue of 'unbalanced transfer laws' will be resolved through on-going talks 'by the end of the year'.
'I hope the transfer rules can be changed,' Xiao Zhanbo, a 35-year-old veteran from Shanghai Shenhua FC, told the Beijing News.
'If it continues like this, there will be fewer and fewer players in this country where footballers are already in short supply. It's catastrophic for Chinese football in the long run.'
Fifa said Zhou Haibin's club did not have a right to insist the 23-year-old player (pictured) remain inactive for 30 months as his transfer had an 'international dimension'
Despite the huge income of China's leagues, mainland stars receive modest wages
The Chinese Super League had receipts last season of 150 million yuan, which is the equivalent, in US dollars, of: 21.9m
Players in China are forced to endure strict training regimes and poor living standards
The number of international players who complained to FIFPro and Fifa about their working conditions on the mainland is: 26
Lack of support
Chinese laws forbid the use of union-orientated organisations by players
The number of mainland players that have been allowed to lodge complaints with world soccer's governing body is: 0
No long-term goal
A lack of devolution in China means elitist, short-term plans persist
China has no strategy for organising soccer over the next 20 to 30 years. Mainland authorities are now looking ahead only up to: 4 years