09/27/2017, 13.38
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Chinese Communist Party is powerless, as religion enters stadiums

by Paul Wang

Henan Jianye won a match avoiding relegation after 15 Taoist priests performed a prayer on their football pitch before the match. Since it improved its stadium's feng-shui, a Guangzhou team has been on a winning streak.

Hong Kong (AsiaNews) – The huge apparatus of the Chinese Communist Party employed to eradicate or at least stifle religion has struck out again despite compulsory atheism lessons, restrictive regulations on religious activities, control over places of worship, not to mention prison and fines for those who disobey.

On 24 September, shortly before a match between Henan Jianye and Shandong Luneng, 15 Taoist priests, in their traditional black robes, showed up on the home pitch to perform a propitiatory ceremony in favour of the host team, Henan Jianye, which was in danger of relegation.

The ritual took place in front of the stadium audience with prayers and incense sticks, offered in front of an altar-looking platform surrounded by yellow Taoist flags and banners with slogans such as ‘It’s Heaven’s will for Jianye to win’.

The prayer was successful: Henan Jianye won 2 to 1. However, this kind of religious activity in an unregistered site sparked criticism from the Chinese Football Association (CFA), which launched an investigation into the club since football pitches cannot be used for religious activities.

The day after the match, in a statement posted on Sina weibo (the Chinese Twitter), the CFA said “It’s inappropriate and unprofessional to host such a ceremony. Soccer should be soccer, and we call on all soccer fans to cheer for your team in a rational way”.

The statement went on to say that “Instead of asking for help from gods outside the pitch, Henan should seek victory through self-endeavour and battling on it”.

For its part, the club issued a press release yesterday expressing its opposition to religious activities on football pitches and promised to rectify “our mistakes”. It blamed fans who were anxious “for the team to pull it together and fight to stay in the league”.

“We understand and appreciate our fans’ sincerity and support, but we stand firmly against any superstitious activities,” the club noted.

For decades, China’s one-party state has fought against "superstitions," but at least 85 per cent of the population is interested in them. In addition, at least one Communist Party member in ten is implicated in some form of religious practice.

The problem now is that religious practices have proven "effective" in football, like in Henan Jianye’s case.

In fact, this is not the first time this season a Chinese club has turned to the gods. Guangzhou R&F repainted their blue-coloured stadium gold in July, saying it was better feng shui (literally wind-water, a Taoist practice) and they have not lost there since.

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