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  • Writer's pictureAndrew Collins

The New CFA Rules: What They Are and What They Mean

Updated: May 29, 2019

There are 2 major new rules. The headline is the introduction of a 100% tax on foreign transfer fees, to be paid to the CFA’s development fund, effectively doubling the cost of any foreign player. There is a caveat to this, in that it only applies to clubs making a loss, however, none of the clubs in the CSL are even close to returning a profit.

The second rule conscripts clubs to feature an equal number of under-23 players as they do foreign players in any given match. The details of this rule are yet to become clear, it is not obvious as to whether this will replace the current rule which forces clubs to start at least one player under 23 years of age, or whether there will be restrictions to playing time, this season has seen many players substituted within the first 15 minutes.


China is determined to develop itself into a global footballing superpower, mainly at the will of President Xi. This requires them to make significant strides at both domestic club and international performance levels. The youth development systems in China remain little more than a mess, despite recent improvement and involvement of European clubs, a massive lack of structure and efficient fund division is thwarting China’s next generation.

The Chinese government is also very worried about businessmen using football to move money out of China, away from the fast changing financial regulations and into more stable currencies overseas. This is also reflected in the government’s u-turn on sports investment guidelines, where they now strongly recommend Chinese investors do not look to takeover European clubs.

The Issues

There is an overriding sense in China that these regulations have been brought in with an element of panic and a lack of thought. The recent period of strong growth for the CSL, both in terms of value and performance, could well be ended by these changes.

The group likely to feel the effects hardest are China’s next generation of footballers. As clubs rush players into first team duty, they run the risk of stunting development. Additionally, the price premium on the top young players will skyrocket, meaning that the gap between the richest clubs and the rest will only increase. The less competitive a league is the more the overall standard drops. Both of these factors will make it much more unlikely for foreign clubs to look to recruit/buy Chinese players, thereby eliminating another key development pathway.

Effectively removing the ability of teams to sign top level international talent will also have a negative effect on the standard of the league, again worsening the league as a talent incubator. Not only that, but it will again decrease international interest, which will lead to lower broadcasting rights deals pushing the CSL back into international irrelevance.

In all, these rule changes are unlikely to lead to the worst case scenarios detailed here, however, it is hard to see how they are going to benefit Chinese football in the coming years. The bigger worry is that this is another example of rushed and poorly constructed policy making by China football’s governing body. It must be assumed that the timing of the announcement, a third of the way through the current season, can only be designed to restrict rumoured big name signings in the upcoming transfer window, again adding to the sense of desperation surrounding the move.

What is clear, is that if China is to achieve their lofty footballing goals, they are going to need much less reactionary governance and a far more considered, long-term strategy in place.

Mailman is a China sports digital marketing agency. We help deliver expert digital & social media programs for the world’s most powerful sports organisations in China.

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