Expulsion warning as Chinese teams enter 70-day virus 'bubble'

Shanghai (AFP) –


Chinese Super League clubs were warned their season could be over if they break strict coronavirus rules, as Wuhan Zall led teams into a sealed-off hotel that will be their home for more than two months.

The revamped and truncated CSL campaign kicks off on Saturday, five months later than scheduled, with matches played behind closed doors.

The 16 teams have been split into two groups for the first phase of the season, one in the northeastern city of Dalian and the other in Suzhou, near Shanghai.

Players, coaches and support staff will have their movements severely restricted for the next 70 days and when not training or playing matches they must stay in their hotel.

As part of measures to create a safe "bubble" they cannot see their families and the teams will stay in a single hotel in each of the two host cities.

"Our anti-epidemic measures are very strict and those who violate them could be kicked out of the league for this season," Qi Jun, the CSL official responsible for virus control, told the state Xinhua news agency.

"The teams and players should not expect to be only fined or suspended for their violation."

Fabio Cannavaro's reigning champions Guangzhou Evergrande play FA Cup winners Shanghai Shenhua in the season-opener on Saturday in Dalian, followed the same day by Wuhan Zall versus Qingdao Huanghai in Suzhou.

Wuhan were picked to play on the first day of the season in a symbolic nod towards the city's well-publicised fight against coronavirus.

The virus emerged in the central Chinese city towards the end of last year before spreading worldwide, with people living there subjected to a particularly harsh 76-day lockdown.

Wuhan Zall fans lit flares as the team left for Suzhou and players and staff -- all wearing masks -- arrived at the sealed-off hotel late on Saturday.

They were cleared to train the next day after all tested negative for coronavirus, the club said.

"We have been training for the new season since January, the players have worked very hard and are fully prepared," Wuhan's Spanish coach Jose Gonzalez said.

"I hope the whole team will go all out to bring happiness to the Wuhan fans, who have emerged from the shadow of the epidemic."