China reverts to home-and-away format as COVID restrictions lifted

HONG KONG, Feb 7 (Reuters) - All matches in the Chinese Super League (CSL) will be played using the home-and-away format this year, the Chinese Football Association said on Tuesday, bringing to an end three seasons of COVID-19 restrictions.

A start date for the 2023 season has yet to be announced, but clubs in the top three divisions will be permitted to host matches when the competitions return.

The Chinese league system was heavily disrupted by COVID-19 restrictions, with matches played in centralised biosecure hubs without spectators during the first two years of the pandemic.

Efforts were made last season to play some matches on a home-and-away basis and allow limited numbers of fans to attend but the government's pursuit of a zero-COVID strategy often resulted in games being postponed or relocated at the last minute due to outbreaks within squads.

The CFA has also amended a contentious rule which stated clubs must field a set number of players under the age of 23 in each CSL match.

Initially imposed in 2017 with the number of players changing from season to season, the rule often saw young players substituted minutes into a game by coaches determined to field their strongest team for as long as possible.

Authorities have also removed restrictions put in place in 2016 prohibiting clubs in China League One and Two relocating between provinces.

Reporting by Michael Church in Hong Kong, Editing by Kylie MacLellan

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