NOTE: This is the UNEDITED text from the article submitted to the Shenzhen Daily and published in 2018.
Part of the washup from China’s 6-nil drubbing from Wales in the 2018 China Cup in Nanning, Guangxi was the sight of many Chinese players having bandages up and down their arms to cover their tattoos.
It turned out that such an edict came from the Chinese Football Association, with the under-23 team wrapped up in games against Syria, as well as the national team in games against Wales and the Czech Republic.
Chinese netizens were predictably furious about such an approach. They strongly argue that having tattoos does not change the way a player performs on the pitch. Such a view appears to be well-founded, given the national team’s insipid performances against Wales and the Czech Republic.
I agree with the Chinese netizens on this topic – that is, in fact, the exact issue. As an Australian, I have seen Tim Cahill score numerous goals for Australia, as well as for Millwall, Everton, New York Red Bulls, Shanghai Shenhua, Hangzhou Greentown and Melbourne City. Nobody complained about the sleeve tattoo he has that reflects his American-Samoan heritage.
Where are the complaints about heavily tattooed international footballers like David Beckham, Zlatan Ibrahimović, Neymar or Sergio Ramos from the Chinese football governing bodies? Those complaints do not exist because they cannot control them, and they know that young people are attracted to these players.
I believe that the CFA has been forced to introduce these rules by another body – almost certainly the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film, and Television are heavily involved in these rules, given their recent rulings on the restrictions of tattooed actors and performers on Chinese television.
The essential problem is that while tattoos may hint at a troubled past, or may encourage bad behavior, there is no proof of that. While it may have been the case that people with tattoos were gangsters and people who operated in the grey areas of the law, that is not always the case today. Young people look up to all sorts of people from all over the world, particularly in a globally connected world such as the one that we live in today.
I understand the position of Jia Xiuqian and his dislike of dyed hair or tattoos. However, if he is picking the team based on that, then there are much bigger problems. China’s problems in the footballing realm run much deeper than players deciding to stain their skin with ink permanently.
If the CFA were serious about improving the quality of its national team, then more players would be heading overseas for international experience. It’s no wonder that Japan, South Korea, Iran, and Australia have consistently qualified for World Cups as their players are regularly playing in foreign leagues, gaining valuable experience about foreign playing styles in the process. The CFA and Chinese players need to understand that football is a full-time job, one that requires dedication and commitment. Getting a tattoo done does not inhibit a player’s ability to put a ball in the top corner but allowing clubs to essentially quarantine players in China to keeping talent here without the potential to develop is what is hurting the national team.
If the CFA wants the players to stay in the country, force all the clubs, professional or amateur, to introduce real development systems. It is only with real academy systems, like those seen in Europe and parts of East Asia, which China can start to become a true force in world football.