OUR MAN AMONG the muddied oafs sends word that China is banning its footballers from having tattoos, another sign of the expanding imposition of a state-directed morality to crack down on alternative cultures.
Tattoos have gained popularity with footballers and young people worldwide, including in China of late, belying their stigmatised associations with individuals and groups on the margins of society. Older Chinese associate them with the criminal underworld, prisoners, slaves, concubines and ethnic minorities.
They have long met with Party disapproval. Mao outlawed tattoos. Even today, tattoo shops operate in a grey area between legality and illegality. They scarcely seem to fit with Xi Jinping Thought on developing citizens ‘with an all-round moral, intellectual, physical and aesthetic grounding’.
The General Administration of Sport of China (GASC) has now ordered footballers who sport them to remove or cover them up to set a ‘good example for society’.
Players with tattoos will not be selected for China’s national and age-group teams. The GASC directive said that national teams should strengthen athletes’ ‘patriotic education’ to enhance the teams’ ‘mission, responsibility and honour’.
Many Chinese footballers have already taken to wearing long-sleeved shirts to cover their tattoos.
A year ago, a women’s university football match was called off with the organising authorities telling players that any who had tattoos or dyed hair would be banned.
Football follows television’s censure of actors with tattoos since 2018’s crackdown by the media watchdog on what is deemed unhealthy content and immoral culture. That has led to on-screen images of tattooed actors and athletes being blurred. Albania’s Eurovision entry was cut from the Chinese broadcast one year because the singer had extensive tattoos.
As younger Chinese have started to adopt tattoo culture recently, they have shown a preference for Western symbols, another reason for authorities to repress inking in the drive to build a narrative of Chinese exceptionalism around historical Chinese culture. Conversely, Chinese literature, myths and calligraphy often inspire Western body ink.