Beijing (AFP) – Chinese Super League club Chongqing Liangjiang Athletic folded on Tuesday after the pandemic deepened its debt woes, becoming the latest team to disband in the once big-spending division.

Chongqing, where Jordi Cruyff was in charge in 2018-2019, went under barely 10 days before the season starts, dealing another blow to the fast-fading ambitions of China’s football-fan president Xi Jinping.

A succession of Chinese clubs, who were once synonymous with lavish spending, have collapsed in recent years including 2020 CSL champions Jiangsu Suning.

The impact of the Covid pandemic and the football industry’s development model had left it with unpayable debts, Chongqing said in a statement.

“It is with extreme regret that we have decided to withdraw from China’s professional football league and subsequently disband the team,” the statement said.

Attempts to reform the club’s shareholding structure had failed, leading to its accounts being frozen and staff experiencing “extreme difficulties”, the club said.

Over the last six years owners have poured nearly $500 million into the club in China’s southwest, state media reported. 

A club media officer confirmed that the team would cease to exist from Tuesday.

“Our club doesn’t seem to have any fixed assets or money, just a few sellable vehicles and equipment,” she said.

“There’s nothing else, not even a pitch.”

China has cancelled or postponed almost all sporting events since early 2020 as it sticks tightly to a zero-Covid policy, although it did host the Winter Olympics in Beijing in February.

Teams are expected to play in empty stadiums in three neutral cities because of Covid rules when the CSL kicks off on June 3.