THE AFC WOMEN'S ASIAN CUP is just about two weeks away.
Although the COVID-19 pandemic, resurgent with its Omicron variant, has kept most of the participating 12 nations from playing international friendlies this month, each and every team is hard at work fine tuning their preparations for the continental championship that's set to be held in India for the second time in its history.
However, members of the China women's national football team may have some more "preparations" to undergo before they begin their campaign on 20th January. Namely: a directive from the government to adopt a more "appropriate look."
Last month, the General Administration of Sport (GAS) of China issued a directive to ban Chinese national team players from getting new tattoos. Players who already have tattoos were previously asked to cover them up during practice sessions and other public appearances. Now, they are being "advised" to have them removed. Not only that, orders have been reportedly sent out prohibiting the recruitment of players with tattoos to national level football or even youth squads.
But the overall directive from the government, which aims to have their athletes set a good example to society and have the national teams present an image of the nation that's closer to the ideals set by the Communist Party of China (CPC), goes beyond just tattoos.
While tattoos may not be a big issue for the players in the Chinese women's national team, the government is also cracking down on other aspects of individuals' appearances like dyed hair and "weird hairstyles." According to a report by the BBC, a university level football match was even called off because some players had dyed hair.
Dyed hair is not uncommon when it comes to women's football in China. In fact several national team stars have adopted dyed hair and different hairstyles in the past. Perhaps the most prominent example would be star striker Li Ying (116 matches and 30 goals for the national team); the highest scorer for her country in Asian Cup 2018 and Olympic Qualifiers of 2020. She was also included in the IFFHS AFC Woman Team of the Decade (2011-2020).
Interestingly, Li was inexplicably dropped from China's Tokyo Olympic Qualifiers play-off round squad despite being one of their best performing players. Then, in June 2021, she became the first high profile Chinese footballer to come out as lesbian, when she announced on social media that she was in a relationship with her girlfriend Chen Leilei.
The post went viral, but was later deleted without explanation. Li Ying faced a massive homophobic backlash online and she did not feature in the squad that went to Tokyo for the Olympics final tournament in July 2021. She has not played for her national team since.
After China's Olympic campaign ended, many fans raised the question if she was excluded from the national team for coming out as a member of the LGBTQIA+ community, but it drew no response from the Chinese Football Association.
While it's unknwon what specific examples of hairstyles and hair colours are deemed inappropriate by the government, there have been examples of male footballers with ponytails having their hair blurred out on TV. The standards imposed on women may be different, but one can assume hairstyles like those of Li Ying may be off limits for the players.
China are set to play the very first game of the AFC Asian Cup 2022 when they take on Chinese Taipei on 20th January at the Mumbai Football Arena. They are in the same group as India, and will face the Blue TIgresses on 26th January.
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