Forget skill, training or even luck. If you’re a female soccer player in China, sometimes victory or defeat comes down to the color of your hair, as one university team recently found out the hard way.
The women’s teams at Fuzhou University and Jimei University were supposed to face off at an intercollegiate tournament last week in China’s southeast. But they were barred from participating because players from both teams had dyed hair, which was against the rules.
Photos from the tournament show all the players with either black or dark-brown hair, but apparently those were the wrong shades. The Fujian Province Department of Education’s rules governing university soccer state that players will be disqualified from a match if they wear accessories or jewelry, or have “strange” hairstyles or dyed hair.
So coaches rushed to buy black hair dye to meet the requirements and assembled seven players with dark hair from each team to compete, according to state-run media.
But the Jimei University team members argued that one of their opponents still did not have “black enough” hair, and she was ordered to leave the game. One player short, the Fuzhou University team forfeited the match.
Under China’s top leader, Xi Jinping, the Communist Party’s creeping interference on the smallest details of Chinese life is being felt more and more. Censors have blurred the bejeweled earlobes of young male pop stars on television and the internet so that, in their mind, the piercings and jewelry don’t set a bad example for boys. Women in costumes at a video game convention were told to raise their necklines.
With soccer a national priority under Mr. Xi, the crackdown has spread to sports. Last year, members of the men’s national soccer team were forced to play in long sleeves in stifling heat at the Asian Cup in Abu Dhabi after the government banned the display of tattoos during matches.
The ban applied both to the national team and to domestic soccer players all the way down to university leagues. Other players have had to put bandages over tattoos and or have been barred from playing for wearing necklaces on the field.
The episode last week sparked intense debate on Weibo, a Chinese microblogging platform, where the hashtag “female soccer team lost due to too many players having dyed hair” has been viewed 180 million times.
Many noted the lagging performance of China’s national teams and opined that the focus should be on improving the skills of players rather than on superficial aspects of the game. One user characterized the episode surrounding the women’s teams as “nitpicking over irrelevant details,” and added, “This shows that our soccer culture is not tolerant or forgiving enough.”
Some users also noted that the rules were simply out of touch because it is all too common for university-age women in China to dye their hair — much as the American soccer star Megan Rapinoe did with a shade of violet while helping the U.S. team take the 2019 World Cup title.
But others supported the Chinese officials’ decision to enforce the rules. “This kind of requirement is right, because these players often become idols for schoolchildren and their conduct can influence other people,” one social media user wrote.
The Fujian Education Department’s rules governing university soccer do not apply only to female players: Male players are barred from having long hair.
But some male professional soccer players have gotten more adventurous with their hair colors and styles. Wei Shihao, a player for Guangzhou Evergrande, made headlines last year when he sported dreadlocks with white tips, and recently when he dyed his hair blond.
The Fuzhou University sports department could not be immediately reached for comment. In a post on its website about the forfeited match, it said: “Although the match against Jimei University on November 30 was unable to go ahead for some reason and we were declared to have lost, the outstanding strength and determination of the whole team was clear to see. They learned a lesson from the event and adjusted their attitudes.”
The following day, the post revealed, the team won its match against another university team, and it came in second over all in the competition.
Apparently, the players had achieved the right shade of black, after all.
Amber Wang contributed research.