BEIJING (Reuters) - The Chinese Super League will kick off on July 25 after a delay of almost five months from its scheduled start, the Chinese Football Association (CFA) said on Wednesday.
The league was originally set to start on Feb. 22 but was postponed indefinitely because of the spread of COVID-19, which first emerged in China late last year.
"China’s battle to prevent and control the epidemic has achieved major strategic results and the national epidemic prevention and control situation continues to improve," the CFA said in a statement.
"To satisfy the people’s eagerness to see the ... Super League resume, the Chinese Football Association decided, after a study, that the 2020 Chinese Super League will be held in Suzhou and Dalian."
Chinese media have reported that the teams will need to arrive in the two city hubs -- Suzhou near Shanghai and Dalian in the northeast of China -- by July 21.
China has been cautious about resuming professional sport, even as neighbouring South Korea, Japan and Taiwan have restarted soccer and baseball leagues.
China's basketball league, which like the CSL has a slew of marquee foreign players, resumed on June 20 in hubs in Qingdao and Dongguan with no fans present.
The coronavirus shutdown has exacted a heavy toll on Chinese football, with a slew of clubs folding under financial strains, including CSL side Tianjin Tianhai.
Shenzhen FC will replace them in the CSL and are among the eight teams in the Dalian hub along with Fabio Cannavaro's reigning champions Guangzhou Evergrande, while Suzhou will host last year's runners-up Beijing Guoan and seven other sides.
Under plans proposed by the CFA in May, the teams in each hub will play a round robin with the top four qualifying for an eight-team "championship" stage and the bottom four from each going into a "relegation" phase.
The CFA also announced that there would be two transfer windows over the next few months, one lasting for most of July and the other in September.
(Writing by Nick Mulvenney in Sydney; Editing by Clarence Fernandez/Peter Rutherford)