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Chinese Football Association (CFA)

Suspension of Chinese under-20 soccer tour casts a cloud over the lauded China-Germany cooperation

The opening game of the tour was halted because the Chinese side refused to continue until protesters removed offensive flags at the ground

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 28 November, 2017, 3:30pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 28 November, 2017, 3:53pm

The Chinese under-20 football team on November 24 suspended its stint in a German regional league in the fallout of a row over Tibetan flags displayed by activists a week earlier during a clash with TSV Schott Mainz in the first of 16 planned friendly games.

The game was halted for half-an-hour because the U20 side refused to continue, only agreeing to resume after the protesters removed the offending flags.

The tour is part of a Sino-German football treaty signed by German chancellor Angela Merkel and Chinese vice-premier Liu Yandong in November last year.

The agreement laid the groundwork for closer cooperation between the two countries’ football associations and its clubs, and allowed China to pay for experts from Germany’s top league, the Bundesliga, to help improve its national team and help develop its Chinese Super League.

Although the German Football Association’s (DFB) refusal to forbid Tibetan flags during the U20 games earned it a harsh condemnation from China’s foreign ministry, in a statement explaining the U20 project’s suspension the DFB stressed its confidence that the excellent relationship with the Chinese Football Association (CFA) will be furthered regardless of the latest setback.

“Indeed, the project was exploited by a very few spectators in order to convey messages that were perceived as insults by the Chinese team, the officials, the CFA coaching staff as well as the Chinese audience,” the DFB stated.

“In view of substantial indicators for further escalation, the DFB and the CFA conclude that the developments are not in tune with the initial envisioned aims of the friendly matches,” it added.

The statement masked the fact that the project and the German-China football treaty had been highly controversial in Germany in the first place, albeit for reasons completely unrelated to Tibet.

China has been investing heavily in European clubs in recent years but not in Germany owing to restrictive ownership rules, and German fans firmly believe that foreign investors have not benefitted football culture in the UK, France, the Netherlands, Spain and Italy.

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The U20 project was perceived in some quarters as the DFB beginning to open up German football to hostile foreign money, with three Regionalliga Suedwest clubs – Waldhof, Kickers Stuttgart und TuS Koblenz – refusing to participate amid pressure from their fans.

Fans organised beer drinking events to donate the proceeds to their clubs, so that they could afford to forego the 15,000 (HK$139,000) sweetener each club was promised to receive for their game against China’s under-20s.

Observers have different opinions as to whether the U20 project’s suspension will leave a deep mark on the China-Germany football cooperation.

Whereas China’s former national coach, German national Klaus Schlappner, told German daily Die Welt, that “the CFA will likely now be turning to Spain or England,” Christian Schmidkonz, a professor and expert for Greater China business at the Munich Business School, in an interview with the South China Morning Post predicted that the developments will not slow the increasingly multifaceted cooperation, as the mutual stakes are much too high.

China’s under-20 footballers to return home after German tour is suspended over Tibet protests

“It is, as usual, about the Chinese side wanting the know-how and the foreign side wanting the Chinese market,” Schmidkonz said.

“China wants German know-how for its talent schools to see football played successfully in China at long last, whereas the Chinese market is extremely attractive for the German clubs and the national team,” he added.

The DFB’s official line for the time being is that all remaining 15 friendly matches will be played after the winter break.