Tibet's first professional soccer team quits over alleged 'home field' dispute
Published: Jun 08, 2020 05:28 AM

Youth players of the Lhasa Chengtou Football Club train in Lhasa, Southwest China's Tibet Autonomous Region in 2019. Photo: Shan Jie/GT

The Lhasa Chengtou Football Club, the first soccer team in Southwest China's Tibet Autonomous Region to play in an amateur league, announced it would dismiss its team. Insiders said the actions could have been spurred by a dispute between the club and Chinese football authorities over the location of the team's home field.

The Chengtou club on Thursday delivered a notice to dismiss the team to its coaches, players, and employees. A manager of the club confirmed the news with the Global Times on Friday.

The team had been approved for the Chinese Football Association Division Two League (C2L) season, which was scheduled to start this spring. 

It remains unknown if the team will exit the C2L.

The club's manager implied the team wanted to establish its home field in Tibet, but the Chinese Football Association (CFA), which serves as the league's administrator, did not approve their request.

A CFA spokesperson told the Global Times that it is reviewing the situation with the local sports bureau.

Chengtou, founded in 2017, began in the amateur league and went pro one year later.

At the end of 2018, even though the team had been approved to enter 2019 C2L, the CFA rejected the club's application to set its home field in Tibet. The team then set its home field in Deyan, located in Southwest China's Sichuan Province, 2,400 kilometers from Lhasa.

Since the club was established, Chengtou has only played five games in Tibet, including two games in Lhasa, and three in Nyingch, a city 400 kilometers from Lhasa that sits at an altitude of 2,900 meters.

Bringing the sport back to Lhasa has always been the club's ambition. When Chengtou played a match in November 2017 at the Lhasa Recreational and Sports Center, at an altitude of 3,650 meters, players had to take oxygen breaks every 15 minutes during the game, Reuters reported.

In 2007, "FIFA banned matches from being played at more than 2,500 meters above sea level," but later suspended the ban due to protests, BBC reported.

According to the club, following a CFA request, in May, the team submitted an official reply from the Tibetan government, together with a report approving the safety of setting the home field in Nyingch by Tibetan sports and medical authorities.

"The quit has an inevitable connection with the home field problem that has never been solved," the manager said.

Chengtou FC is affiliated with Lhasa Urban Construction Investment Management, the largest state-owned company in Tibet. "Finance is not an issue for the team," the manager reaffirmed.

The club has been devoted to maintaining local Tibetan soccer players, kindling the enthusiasm of footballers in the region.

The players from the adult team are now unemployed. Fortunately, the destiny of the players from Chengtou's youth training system is not doomed. Now, they are training in Lhasa, the manager said.

The team has over 70 youth players aged 13 to 16 for four teams. All of them are Tibetan.

When the club officially quits, it will be the 17th club to quit the Chinese professional soccer league this year, leaving the C2L with only 20 teams. In 2019, the league had 32 teams, with Chengtou finishing 26th. The club's adult team has six Tibetan players.