Director of troubled body says: 'We are determined to purify the environment' The director of China's troubled Super League has pledged to 'purify the environment' as the league gets ready to kick off its third season and tries to lure disillusioned fans back to the football grounds. 'The gambling and match-fixing has damaged the reputation of the Super League so we are determined to purify the Super League environment,' said Lang Xiaonong, the director of the professional league that was set up in 2004 to replace the old first division, known as Jia A. In the face of rising corruption the league failed to secure a title sponsor for last season. Crowds dwindled to an average of 10,500 per game and TV ratings were down to a cumulative total of about 120 million, a fraction of previous years. When Chinese domestic football was at the peak of its popularity eight years ago average match attendance was 24,700 and combined TV ratings were up to 500 million, Lang said. 'Both the Chinese Football Association [CFA] and the clubs have to adopt a more professional approach and improve our marketing,' he said. 'And slowly we should be able to climb back up to the previous high figures.' Underground gambling rings were at the root of many of the league's problems, he said, as they encouraged referees, players and coaches to fix matches. 'But the police have done a lot of work last year cracking down on these gangs so the situation should improve, but of course some will still exist,' he added. CFA officials are hopeful that crowds will be enticed back by the prospect of a more competitive league, as promotion and relegation will be reintroduced this season now that the top flight has grown to 15 teams, up from 12 when the league began. This season should have seen 16 teams in the league but another scandal forced Sichuan Guancheng to withdraw in January. CFA officials said last year's champions Dalian Shide had concealed financial links with the Sichuan club, a relationship they believed could result in match-fixing. Dalian had to sever their ties and Sichuan failed to find new investors, forcing them to withdraw from the league. 'According to the regulations the shareholders of one club cannot invest in another, but Dalian Shide did,' Lang said, adding that they were on the look out for other 'ally' clubs in the league. 'But sometimes the links and benefits are hidden. It's hard to find the truth,' he admitted. While the CFA has been accused by some of mismanagement, Lang believes that the main problems they have met are a reflection of the growing pains of Chinese society in general. 'There is some corruption in Chinese football, but as China is in the process of switching to a market economy there is corruption in nearly every industry here,' he said. 'The problems cannot be solved by the football association alone. It is more related to the legal environment and the morals of the society.' Despite the widespread problems the league faces, Lang said that a title sponsor had been signed up for the upcoming season and details would soon be announced, with the endorsement deal worth about US$10 million to the association. The sponsorship deal will be welcome news to the clubs, many of which are in dire financial straits. A spokesman for Beijing Hyundai said that in 2004 the CFA gave each club three million yuan, but last year in the absence of a sponsor they got nothing. With a one million yuan salary cap in place, the allocation could cover the salary of three star players, he said. 'It is very difficult for clubs to survive in this climate. About 90 per cent of clubs in the league are losing money. We are doing better than most, only losing a small amount of money each year, but we hope to get into the black this year,' he said. He was confident that the league could restore its tarnished image this year and the fans would return to the stadiums. The Super League season kicks off in Xian on March 11 with Xian Guoji facing Shanghai Liancheng.