CFA deserves credit for using ‘Messi clause’ in commercial soccer matches

The Huanglong Stadium in Hangzhou, East China's Zhejiang Province which will host the CFA Super Cup on April 8, 2023. Photo: VCG

The Huanglong Stadium in Hangzhou, East China’s Zhejiang Province which will host the CFA Super Cup on April 8, 2023. Photo: VCG

 In a surprising move that has garnered applause from soccer fans, the Chinese Football Association (CFA) introduced what many are dubbing the “Messi clause” in a recent revision of regulations for the administration of international soccer events.

The highlight of these new regulations is the requirement for sports event organizers to provide comprehensive ticketing terms, including disclosure of star players’ appearance terms and the consequences of breach of contracts before ticket sales commence. 

This development comes in the wake of incidents involving high-profile soccer stars such as Lionel Messi of Argentina and Cristiano Ronaldo of Portugal, who left fans disappointed when they pulled out of matches due to injuries.

Messi’s absence during a match in Hong Kong – though technically the match was under the Hong Kong FA’s purview rather than the mainland CFA’s – and Ronaldo’s cancellation of two friendlies in Hong Kong’s neighboring city of Shenzhen due to injuries had sparked widespread criticism and protests from disappointed fans. These incidents underscored the need for greater accountability and transparency in commercial-oriented matches.

Though the CFA is still recovering from the corruption cases involving the previous administration, this proactive approach to address these issues demonstrates the commitment to promoting the standardization of soccer commercial events and safeguarding the interests of soccer fans. By requiring organizers to disclose crucial information regarding star players’ participation upfront, the CFA aims to prevent similar controversies from occurring in the future.

The implementation of these regulations is a significant step toward enhancing transparency and accountability in commercial soccer events. By ensuring that fans are informed about the terms of player appearances and the remedies available in case of breaches, the CFA is empowering consumers and fostering a fairer environment for soccer enthusiasts.

Moreover, these regulations are expected to incentivize event organizers to draw up more rigorous and detailed contracts with participating teams and players. The requirement for the disclosure of player appearance terms will compel organizers to enter into agreements that clearly outline the expectations and responsibilities of all parties involved.

In addition to holding event organizers accountable, these regulations also raise the bar for the quality and professionalism of commercial soccer events in China. By setting clear standards and expectations, the CFA is pushing for a higher level of integrity and professionalism in the organization and execution of such events.

Furthermore, the introduction of these regulations reflects the CFA’s responsiveness to feedback and its willingness to adapt to changing circumstances. By addressing loopholes and shortcomings identified in past incidents, the CFA is demonstrating its commitment to continuous improvement and innovation in soccer governance.

Overall, the “Messi clause” represents a positive development for the soccer industry in China. 

By prioritizing the interests of fans and promoting greater transparency and accountability, the CFA is laying the groundwork for more sustainable and reputable commercial soccer games. As the soccer market continues to grow and evolve, these regulations will play a crucial role in shaping the future of commercial soccer events in China.

Chinese woman referee makes history

Illustration:Liu Xiangya/GT

Illustration:Liu Xiangya/GT

Chinese soccer marked a historic moment during the sixth round of the 2024 season of the Chinese Super League on Sunday.

In the match between Shanghai Port and Shandong Taishan, international assistant referee Xie Lijun served as the second assistant referee, becoming the first woman in the Chinese mainland to officiate in the country’s top flight men’s soccer league. 

Shanghai outgunned Shandong 4-3 in a seven-goal thriller while Xie’s calm performance ensured the smooth progress of the game. 

The 34-year-old Xie said after the match that she was a little nervous before the start of the match. “But when the whistle blew, all my attention and focus were on the game, and the nervousness disappeared. I believe I’ve also reached a new starting point,” Xie said. 

The pace of men’s matches is faster, attracting more attention, and thus the pressure is higher. The physical demands are also higher, Xie noted. 

When asked to rate her officiating from 1 to 10, Xie gave it 7.5 points. “There is a difference in physicality and intensity between men’s and women’s soccer matches. In situations like ruling fouls and making technical judgments, it’s actually clearer in men’s matches than in women’s matches,” she said. 

Following her debut in the men’s league, she has now set her sights on officiating at the men’s World Cup in the future and mentioned that her past experiences have helped her develop excellent physical fitness. 

This milestone moment is sure to get more women and girls interested in soccer and sports officiating while setting a powerful example for fellow female referees, encouraging them to aspire to greater heights in their soccer careers. It will undoubtedly serve as inspiration for future generations of female referees, motivating them to excel in major international competitions.

In addition, having women involved in refereeing brings diverse perspectives and experiences to the game. This can lead to a more nuanced understanding of the sport and potentially contribute to fairer and more balanced officiating.

The impact of this milestone on the development of soccer lies in its potential to foster a more inclusive and diverse sporting culture. Breaking gender barriers and promoting equal opportunities can attract more talent to the sport, both on and off the field. Additionally, it sends a message to fans, players, and officials alike that soccer is a sport for everyone.

In recent years, more woman referees have made their mark in the men’s competitions. 

In the match between Costa Rica and Germany during the 2022 Qatar World Cup, Stephanie Frappart of France became the first woman to referee a men’s World Cup match. 

Frappart was also the first woman to referee a French top-flight league and UEFA Champions League game.

Rebecca Welch became the first female referee to take charge of an English Premier League match when she officiated Burnley’s 2-0 win against Fulham in November.

Selecting outstanding female referees to officiate men’s professional league matches is also one of the measures announced by the Chinese Football Association (CFA) before the start of this season to enhance the professional competence of domestic league referees, as well as improving the management and supervision of referees. 

Efforts to promote female referees’ presence at men’s matches has received not only support from the CFA but also backing from international male referees. 

During a conference for national women’s soccer referees in December, renowned referee Ma Ning expressed his support for capable female referees officiating in men’s leagues. 

It was Ma who took charge of Sunday’s game and helped Xie realize her dream.

As an elite assistant referee under the Asian Football Confederation (AFC), Xie has officiated in previous FIFA events and was the only Chinese referee at the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup. 

Currently working as a teacher of yoga, soccer, and volleyball courses at the Sichuan University Jinjiang College, Xie began her officiating journey in December 2009 when she first raised a sideline flag at a high school event in Southwest China’s Sichuan Province. In 2019, after ascending to the ranks of accredited international referees, she stepped onto the stage of the Women’s World Cup in France.

“Nowadays, it’s becoming a trend for female referees to officiate in men’s matches. It’s already common for female referees in the English Premier League to officiate men’s matches. Currently, there is still a gap between Chinese referees and European counterparts. I believe that the CFA has a clear plan for nurturing female referees, and in the future, we will see more female referees participating in men’s matches,” said Xie.

Xie’s impressive performance will encourage more female referees.

It signifies modernization in the world of soccer and sports in general. Embracing diversity and providing equal opportunities for women in all aspects of the game reflects a progressive step for the Chinese league and the sport as a whole.

Xie said she hopes that more women referees can take part in the Women’s World Cup and men’s competitions in the years ahead. 

“My suggestion is to watch more men’s matches and feel the atmosphere of the games. I believe more female referees will be present at men’s matches and stepping onto the World Cup stage,” she said. 

The author is a reporter with the Global Times. [email protected]