CSL returns amid corruption scandals, aiming at ‘new future’
Fans back to stadiums as 2023 season kicks off
Published: Apr 16, 2023 10:04 PM
Photo: Cui Meng/GT

Photo: Cui Meng/GT

Soccer fans finally returned to stadiums as the 2023 Chinese Super League (CSL) season started over the weekend, with 17 goals scored in the first round. 

The COVID-19 pandemic had forced domestic soccer games to be played in a tournament-like bubble, with only a very limited number of fans or even no fans attending.

Nearly 47,000 fans attended the match at the iconic Workers' Stadium, which was kept from its full capacity of 68,000 seats due to security concerns. During the match, hosts Beijing Guoan were held to a 1-1 draw by visitors Meizhou Hakka.  

Ahead of the match, the opening ceremony for the 2023 CSL season was held at Gongti, the Chinese abbreviation for the stadium, which reopened after nearly three years of renovation.

When Gao Hongbo, a vice president of the Chinese Football Association (CFA), announced the beginning of the 2023 season, a tifo that said "creating a new future together" emerged and covered the lower east-side stand, showcasing the theme of the new season.

Sixteen young soccer players from the academies of each CSL club appeared at the opening ceremony, as the sport's governing body wants to underline the importance of strengthening youth soccer capabilities across the country. 

Singer Wei Wei, a former pop diva in the 1990s, gave an encore of her singing performance of "Asian Mighty Winds" 33 years ago at the Workers' Stadium, when it hosted the opening ceremony of the 1990 Asian Games. 

The Workers' Stadium, a historic site that has witnessed Chinese sports history since it hosted the maiden National Games in 1959, has been reshaped into a professional soccer venue as the traditional running tracks were removed during the renovation. 

The return of home-and-away league matches and fans in attendance are a ­vital part of boosting the sport's popularity amid corruption scandals that have seen seven senior CFA officials targeted by disciplinary probes.

The removal of the track around the pitch brought fans closer to the players, and the increased slope of the stands provides a wider view for spectators. The seats are now green, with the Beijing FC team name spelled out using yellow seats in the middle of the east stand.

Other highlights of the first round include Shanghai Port, which finished in fourth place in the 2022 season, ­defeating last season's champions Wuhan Three Towns 2-0 in an away game on Saturday, thanks to two goals from 28-year-old Brazilian forward Paulinho. 

Elsewhere, Shanghai Shenhua beat last season's runners-up Shandong Tai­shan 1-0 on its home pitch.