China’s much-ridiculed footballers are ranked 65th by FIFA, they have never won a match at a World Cup Finals and they were roundly thrashed 6-0 by Wales in their most recent game.
But instead of introducing new measures to help a country of 1.4 billion people produce 11 men who don’t embarrass themselves on a football pitch, Chinese sports officials are instead clamping down on tattoos in order to promote “socialist values’.
Real Madrid star Gareth Bale grabbed the headlines as Wales swept aside China in the southern city of Nanning last Thursday, scoring a hat-trick in the Chinese team’s latest humiliation.
But fans and media also spotted how the Chinese players sported bandages over their arms and legs to cover tattoos.
Chinese players at the training sessions were also covering up their skin with long-sleeved attire and running tights.
Reports then began emerging in Chinese media that tattoos had come under scrutiny from authorities.
It appears to be the latest salvo in a war on morals that has been launched in recent years across China, where anything from kissing at university campuses to having a trendy haircut at school is frowned upon.
Sohu sports said “detailed measures” on tattoos will be issued by the Chinese Football Association (CFA) in the coming weeks.
A senior CFA official told the media outlet: “China promotes cultural confidence among nationalities and core socialist values, so as the national team, it has a responsibility to provide a healthy football culture for society and work as an example in this respect.”
A report from Shanghai-based outlet thepaper.com said the new measures will be implemented across Chinese football, from all levels of the national team, to professional league matches in the Chinese Super League to “teenage football matches”.
China’s U23 national team also covered up their tattoos in a match against Syria on Saturday.
Footballers are not the only entertainers to fall foul of China’s strictly Conservative authorities.
Musicians and performers with tattoos are also reportedly banned from appearing on television shows.
Singer Dou Jingtong covered up her jaw-to-neck tattoo when she appeared on Chinese TV last year.
The restrictions on footballers’ tattoos are not expected to apply to overseas footballers, which is good news for heavily-inked David Beckham, a huge star in China who often visits the country.
During a 2013 visit , after being prompted by journalists, the former England captain lifted up his shirt to reveal Chinese characters tattooed on the left-hand side of his torso.
But Bale, China’s current footballing darling, has no tattoos, apparently due to his father, Frank, being opposed to the glitzy side of football.
Jia Xiuquan, head coach of China’s U19 team, appeared to echo those views in comments which the more traditionally-minded English Premier League managers might agree with.
“I dislike any form of dyed hair or tattoos,” Jia told thepaper.com.
“Any team player who wants to be selected for the next match should wash their tattoos and the colour out of their hair. They should focus on the game rather than their image or appearance.”