Two Chinese former soccer chiefs jailed for accepting bribes


TWO FORMER football chiefs and a number of ex-national team players were jailed for corruption yesterday as soccer’s ruling body continues to try to clean up the “beautiful game” in China.

The arrival of French striker Nicolas Anelka and former Italy coach Marcello Lippi in recent months has boosted the profile of the game, but the league’s reputation has suffered badly from rampant bribery, racketeering and match-fixing, prompting a major crackdown on graft.

Nan Yong, former head of the Chinese Football Association, was given 10½ years for taking bribes worth more than 1.48 million yuan (€185,000), the Xinhua news agency reported. His predecessor Xie Yalong was given the same sentence and fined for taking bribes.

They are the two highest-ranking officials to be jailed in the crackdown aimed at ending a run of own goals for Chinese soccer.

To date, 56 high-ranking figures have been jailed, but Xinhua quoted analysts saying the sentences “should be a comma rather than a full stop in the fight against match-fixing, gambling, bribery and embezzlement that ravaged the Chinese professional soccer leagues”.

Former China captain Wei Shaohui was also given 10½ years and fined for taking bribes. Former internationals Shen Si, Qi Hong, Jiang Jin and Li Ming were each jailed for up to six years for match-fixing, Xinhua said.

Li Dongsheng, another former senior football official, was sentenced to nine years in prison for bribery and embezzlement.

Altogether 24 people were sentenced at the end of two trials in Liaoning province.

They included several former club managers, while four referees were jailed for up to six years for taking bribes.

Football is hugely popular in China, but outrageous levels of corruption – corrupt referees are known as “black whistles” – have badly tarnished the domestic game’s reputation.

Many fans have switched to basketball or focus on football from overseas.

China has only made it to the World Cup once, in 2002. The team failed to score in the first round and was knocked out. Qi and Jiang, who were jailed, were on the national side that qualified for that World Cup.

They were convicted of taking bribes to fix a 2003 domestic game in which their team, Shanghai Guoji, lost.

“Will Chinese soccer be free of corruption after this house-clean? I am not that optimistic,” Xinhua quoted Chen Peide, former head of the sports bureau in the eastern province of Zhejiang, as saying.

Desperate to shore up the reputation of the game, the Chinese Football Association has put together an independent professional league council which will try to reform the game in China and work on developing the sport.

There are hopeful signs. Prompted by investment in the game by rich benefactors, 4.23 million fans have attended Chinese Super League matches this season, the best figures since the league began in 2004.

National TV also resumed broadcasting league matches this season.