Hangzhou & Chongqing replace relegated clubs

BEIJING - Hangzhou and Chongqing have been restored to the Chinese Super League (CSL) in place of the two clubs relegated this week for match-fixing.

The move, announced by the Chinese Football Association (CFA) late on Friday, brings the CSL back to 16 teams after Guangzhou and Chengdu were demoted for their part in the ongoing scandal.

The chaos caused by the nationwide police investigation, which has already led to the arrest of more than 20 officials including the former head of the CFA, has also caused the start of the new CSL season to be put back a week to March 27.

"It's good to keep 16 teams," CSL general secretary Ma Chengquan told Xinhua news agency.

"All the sponsors, clubs welcome that decision. If we cut the league to 14 teams, the CSL will also have to reduce the number of teams that could take part in the AFC Champions League."

The league, which is sponsored by Italian tyre manufacturer Pirelli, will retain the relegation of the bottom two teams at the end of the season.

Last season, those two teams were Hangzhou and Chongqing, who have now been handed a lifeline by Monday's decision by the CFA disciplinary committee.

Guangzhou and Chengdu will play in a 13-team second division (Jia A) after Qingdao were expelled altogether from professional football for their involvement in the match-fixing.

The match-fixing crackdown followed calls by top Communist Party officials to clean up the professional game in China, which has long been regarded as riven with corruption and violence.

Wei Di, who replaced the disgraced Nan Yong as head of the CFA, has said more clubs could still be punished for match-fixing when the police disclose more evidence.