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China Bans National Soccer Players From Getting Tattoos

Alina Wang
A native of New York, Alina has a Bachelors degree in Corporate Communications from Baruch College and writes about human rights, politics, tech, and society.
Published: December 30, 2021
Zhang Linpeng of Evergrande celebrates the win during the AFC Asian Champions League match between the Central Coast Mariners and Guangzhou Evergrande at Bluetongue Stadium on May 15, 2013 in Gosford, Australia. (Photo by Tony Feder via Getty Images)

The Chinese government has announced that soccer players will be banned from getting tattoos and ordered those with existing ones to remove or cover them up in order to “set a good example for society,” according to a directive issued by the General Administration of Sport of China (GAS).

The directive — titled “Suggestions for strengthening the management of soccer players” — lays out disciplinary requirements for national team players across the country. 

“Athletes of the national team and U23 national team are strictly prohibited from having new tattoos,” the directive, which was published on Dec. 29, stated. 

“Those who have tattoos are advised to remove the tattoos by themselves. In cases of special circumstances, tattoos must be covered during training and competition after the consent of the team.”

A growing number of high-profile Chinese players have tattoos, including the international defender Zhang Linpeng, who had reportedly “reached an agreement” to play for renowned Spanish league Real Madrid in 2015. Zhang has previously been told to cover up his ink while appearing for the Chinese national team and when representing his club Guangzhou FC.

According to the directive, national teams at Under-20 levels are also forbidden from recruiting new athletes with tattoos. The measures “fully demonstrate the positive spirit of Chinese players and set a good example for society,” the guidelines read. 

The GAS added that national teams should organize ideological and political education activities that “strengthen patriotic education and enhance the sense of mission, responsibility and honor in order to create a national team capable of conquering and fighting well and with an excellent style of play.”

China‘s national team has failed to qualify for the World Cup finals since making their debut appearance in 2002. The team also looks set to miss out on the upcoming FIFA World Cup, scheduled to take place in Qatar in 2022. 

China’s crackdown on ‘immoral culture’

This isn’t the first time the Chinese government has censored content on national TV. In 2018, China’s media regulator issued an edict stating that Chinese television “should not feature actors with tattoos,” during a crackdown on “hip hop culture, sub-culture and immoral culture.”

Images with tattoos were required to be blurred out before they could be shown on TV.

In 2019, even men wearing earrings were censored on Chinese TV after the Chinese government deemed the look effeminate and not in keeping with traditional values.