Football in China


  1. History and Development
  2. Industry Beginnings
  3. Investments and Growth

iii. Future Plans

  1. League and System
  2. CSL Structure and Outline
  3. A Brief History of the CSL

iii. Chinese Football Cup Competitions

  1. Current CSL Club Standings
  2. References


  1. History and Development


  1. Industry Beginnings


Though China began developing a Chinese Football Championship as early as the 1950s, the sport was truly introduced as a national industry in the 1990s, and has become one of the most well-supported and fastest growing sports in the country. Beginning in 2004, the Chinese Super League (the 1st tier), alongside China League One (the 2nd tier), now stands as the primary structure of competitive football in China (see section 2).


  1. Investments and Growth


In recent years, there has been a huge boom in the football industry in China, led largely by President Xi Jinping, a keen football enthusiast. In 2015, Xi announced his intention to detach the national football administration from central government, diversify the market, and make the improvement of football a key national priority – delivering a plan with 850 billion USD worth of investments to be made over ten years, regardless of relevant market turbulence. Indeed, China has expressed the desire to become a “world football superpower” in the near future, with a team capable of winning international championships, and as a result there has been an influx of foreign players and managers to national Chinese teams.


As a nation lauded for rapid development, it is not surprising that the growth of the international sporting industry has been extremely efficient in China, backed by heavy government and business investments in a sizeable global market, as well as the support of a huge population in inspiring immense fandom and media traction. Estimates suggest that billions of dollars are embroiled in football-related business across China each year; including international star player endorsement deals, player transfers, and fan paraphernalia. Such deals have manifested in national conglomerates investing huge sums of money directly in teams and football campaigns, including, for example, Jack Ma’s (the founder of Alibaba Group Holding Ltd.) 1.2 billion RMB (193 million USD) deal for 50% ownership of the Guangzhou Evergrande team. Furthermore, with the growth of the Chinese digital media market, there exists a new breed of national broadcasters that have come into partnerships with various global sports industries to promote players, teams, leagues, and events across the country. Most notable of such partnerships is the now established “Beckham Brand”, as the internationally renowned football star David Beckham has become the overall ambassador of the growing Chinese Super League.


Development of the industry has also trickled down into national education, as in 2014 Xi Jinping instigated football as a compulsory extracurricular in schools. It is estimated that by 2017, 20,000 schools will be equipped with new football pitches and training facilities, with an overhead aim to produce 100,000 new national players. This development is backed by a nation-wide boost in sports consumption and the promotion of public fitness, outlined in the government “Opinions on Accelerating the Development of Sports Industry and Promoting Sports Consumption” (see section 4).


iii. Future Plans

Along with the injection of football culture into the education sphere, China has also announced a specific strategy to becoming a “world football superpower” by 2050. Said strategy involves targets such as installing 70,000 pitches across the country by 2020, one pitch for every 10,000 people in the country by 2030, the men’s league to be the best in Asia by 2030, and a bid for the men’s World Cup by 2050 (in fact we have been told at Little Football Stars that this may well happen in the 2030s). For more detail into China’s growth plans, links to the pragmatic 50-point plan can be found in section 4 (References).


  1. League and Cup System


  1. A Brief History of the CSL


Beginning in 2004, the first CSL season involved 12 teams, and aimed to reinvest public attention in the industry that had suffered low attendance and financial losses in light of past administrative indiscretions. In the first few years of establishment, the CSL struggled with the fluctuation of teams involved, as certain clubs merged and broke apart in light of new management and restructured administration. However, since 2009 the league has run with 16 clubs each year, with two clubs promoted from China League 1 and two relegated to China League 1 each season.


In 2010, the Chinese government arrested former guilty CFA Vice Presidents, which ultimately improved the national image of the entire football industry. As a result, the leading national clubs began investing further in international competition, signing stars such as Chelsea’s Didier Drogba and Nicolas Anelka, former Barcelona midfielder Seydou Keita, and introducing new club managers from overseas, such as Japanese national team coach Takeshi Okada, Argentinian national team coach Sergio Batista and former Juventus manager Marcello Lippi.


More recently, big names to have come to China include players Oscar, Hulk, Lavezzi, Alex Teixeira and coaches Sven-Göran Eriksson, Fabio Cannavaro, Fabio Capello and Gary White.


  1. Chinese Football Cup Competitions


The national knockout competition organised by the CFA is known as the Chinese FA Cup, and dates back to 1956, then known as the Chinese National Football Championship. Each year, the Chinese FA Cup is preceded by a Chinese FA Super Cup, a pre-season league competition equivalent to the English FA Community Shield. More recently, in 2012, amateur teams were added to the cup league tables, with a new slogan: “Game For All”.



  1. Current CSL Club Standings


List of current teams in the Chinese Super League (in order of position at the end of 2016 with regards to overall match results, points, and goals since the CSL inception in 2004)


Shandong Luneng Taishan

Beijing Sinobo Guoan

Shanghai Greenland Shenhua

Tianjin Teda

Guangzhou Evergrande Taobao

Changchun Yatai

Guangzhou R&F

Liaoning Huyun (F.C.)

Jiangsu Suning

Henan Jianye

Shanghai SIPG

Chongqing Dangdai Lifan

Hebei CFFC

Yanbian Funde

Tianjin Quanjian

Guizhou Hengfeng Zhicheng



  1. References:

Football Industry in China http://



China’s “Opinions on Accelerating the Development of Sports Industry and Promoting Sports Consumption”:



China’s 50-point plan:



Read Chinese Football’s 50-point reform plan in full – exclusive translation