Barely a month after the Chinese Super League returned to its home-and-away format for the first time in more than two years, the country’s COVID-19 policy is causing further disruption to a competition still reeling from the pandemic.
Wuhan Three Towns were denied the opportunity to increase their lead over second-placed Shandong Taishan when their September 5 meeting with Changchun Yatai was postponed because of COVID issues.
That game was one of 15 matches delayed over the last week as a result of restrictions that can see entire cities locked down following the discovery of a handful of cases.
Wuhan, last season’s China League One winners, hold a four-point advantage over defending champions Shandong but when the clubs will be able to renew their battle remains unclear given the uncertainty around the schedule.
Where once the financial might of Chinese clubs lured high-profile players and coaches with enormous salaries, few of the big names are now interested in a move to China.
The downturn had already started before the pandemic with clubs such as Tianjin Quanjian - formerly home to internationals Alexandre Pato, Anthony Modeste and Axel Witsel - closing their doors.
The impact of COVID hit Chinese football hard, with matches in the long-delayed 2020 season and throughout the 2021 campaign played in biosecure centralised hubs, often without fans.
Financial issues for China’s property developers - who own many of the country’s top clubs, including eight-time champions Guangzhou FC - were also weighing on the game.
The current campaign started with matches being played in hubs before a decision was made in July to allow clubs to play at their home venues if local approval was granted.
Of the league’s 18 teams, 11 were given permission but within weeks the zero-COVID policy forced games to be moved or rescheduled.
Now the prospect of a return to playing in centralised hubs has reemerged, potentially dealing another blow to the profile and finances of a league already severely under the cosh.