If China is to have any realistic expectation of bidding for the 2026 FIFA World Cup, it will have to clean up the endemic corruption, match-fixing and illegal gaming in its domestic game. It now looks likely that early next year Chinese football will have the opportunity of a public cleansing with the trials of seven former Chinese Football Association officials on charges of bribery and match-fixing.
For more than a year, police have been cracking down on the rot within the game with a couple of teams-worth of players, referees and administrators across the country detained for questioning. Last September, Xie Yalong, the former head of the CFA was taken into police custody for questioning along with Wei Shaohui, a former manager of the national team, and Li Dongsheng, the CFA official who headed the referees’ commission. Police were said to be investigating whether the men had any connections to Xie’s successor, Nan Yong, and two of his colleagues at the CFA, Yang Yimin and Zhang Jianqiang, who had been detained early in the year on suspicion of bribe-taking and match-fixing. Now all six plus a seventh CFA official, Fan Guangming, whose arrest in November 2009 started it all, are to be prosecuted, according to reports earlier this week in the Guangdong-based newspaper Soccer Monday (via China Daily).
Xie, who was installed as head of the CFA in 2005 from outside the sport to clean up the domestic professional league and improve the standing of the national team, is reportedly accused of taking bribes to secure hosting the East Asian Football Championship for Chongqing in 2006. It is said he, along with Nan and Yang, will not face match-fixing charges, only those of bribery and malfeasance — which may make a conviction easier to obtain as, legal experts say, the law does not define match-fixing clearly. There may be a loophole if matches are shown to be fixed by nobbling referees rather than players.
That is likely to be fixed along with the same purpose as handing out some exemplary high-profile sentences. For a country that is investing a lot of money and effort into reflecting its national pride in its emerging global power in the mirror of its sporting prowess, the confluence in football of corruption and low sporting standing is of too great importance to the Party leadership for it to be a mere spectator even if 2026 or even 2030 still seem a long way off.