Chinese Super League referees are coming under increasing fire, with state media Friday accusing "the judges in black" of damaging the reputation of the country's top football competition.
Former Marseille forward Romain Alessandrini was sent off Thursday during Qingdao Huanghai's 2-1 defeat by Hebei China Fortune, among three red cards and a penalty dished out in two matches that evening.
The latest controversial calls sparked intense discussion among fans and media about the quality of officiating in the CSL, which in 2017 introduced foreign referees for some matches to improve standards.
Mark Clattenburg, the former Premier League referee, and Serbian Milorad Mazic were drafted in last year.
However, because of coronavirus travel restrictions, matches this season are all officiated by Chinese referees.
After seven rounds of games, four of the 16 clubs -- including Rafael Benitez's Dalian Pro -- have complained to the Chinese FA about decisions against them, said Sohu Sports.
"Referees frequently steal the spotlight," Sohu said.
There has also been consternation about the inconsistent use of the video-assistant referee and the time it has often taken to reach a conclusion after consulting VAR.
"Controversies and penalties by local referees continue to damage the reputation of the league," state-run Shanghai Observer said in a headline.
"The Chinese Super League must call back foreign referees to enforce key games."
"Once again, the judge in black inexplicably grabs our attention," it added, referring to Thursday's matches.
Frenchman Alessandrini, who has been one of the stars of the coronavirus-delayed campaign, could face further punishment after spitting following his sending-off.
He got his marching orders in the 78th minute for kicking out at Pan Ximing after the Hebei defender scythed him down from behind. Pan escaped without being booked by referee Zhang Lei.
Zhang instead booked Hebei's Zhang Chengdong, who was later sent off for a second yellow card which also left many scratching their heads.
But Friday's Oriental Sports Daily said Chinese fans frequently make referees the scapegoat.
"Thousands of mistakes are always the fault of the referee," it said in a column.
"There is a saying in Brazil that everyone is a head coach. In the current Super League in China, everyone is a referee."
CSL coaches and players face stiff bans if they talk about match officials or confront them, and journalists are not allowed to ask questions about referees in press conferences.
Then Shanghai SIPG coach Andre Villas-Boas was hit with an eight-game touchline ban in 2017 after "insulting" a referee.