Tag Archives: soccer

More Convictions In China’s Soccer Bribes Scandal

Another raft of sentences has been handed down in the bribes-taking scandal that has plagued Chinese football. Most prominent among the latest 39 convictions are:

  • Yang Yimin, the former deputy chief of the Chinese Football Association (CFA), who has been sentenced to ten and a half years in prison for taking bribes totaling 1.3 million yuan ($206,000). He will also have personal property worth 200,000 yuan confiscated.
  • Zhang Jianqiang, former head of the referees’ committee, who has been sentenced to 12 years in prison for taking bribes totalling 2.7 million yuan. He will have  personal property worth 250,000 yuan confiscated.
  • Li Zhimin, former president of Shaanxi Guoli Club, who has beeb sentenced to five years in prison for taking bribes totaling 2.5 million yuan. He has had personal property worth 250,000 yuan confiscated.

Earlier in the week, China’s former top referee, Lu Jun, was sentenced to five and a half years in jail for accepting bribes. Trials are still pending for several more former CFA officials, including former vice president Nan Yong and his predecessor Xie Yalong, and the former head of the national team, Wei Shaohui.

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China’s Black Whistles Get Jail Time

Lu Jun , one of the 36 referees for the 2002 World Cup, takes a group photo with Bora Milutinovic, China's national soccer team's head coach, and other members of the team in Kunming, capital city of southwest China's Yunnan Province, April 26, 2002.  (Xinhua Photo/Tan Xipeng)Time has been blown on the Golden Whistle. Lu Jun, who earned that nickname when he was one of the country’s leading soccer referees, has been sentenced to five and a half years in jail for taking more than RMB710,000 ($113,000) in bribes to fix matches between 1999 and 2003. He is also to have personal property worth RMB100,000 confiscated. Lu is the man on the left of the Xinhua file picture to the right, taken in 2002, the year he became the first Chinese to officiate in a World Cup Finals.

Lu was one of nine convicted on corruption charges relating to Chinese football, whose professional soccer leagues have been plagued with allegations of gambling, match fixing and corrupt referees for years. The most severe sentence imposed in this latest batch of convictions was seven years imprisonment handed down to another Black Whistle, as corrupt referees are known, Huang Junjie. He is to have RMB200,000 of personal property confiscated. The former manager of the top professional league, the Super League, Lu Feng, is to serve six and a half years for corruption.

Other cases outstanding include the trials of Zhang Jianqiang, ex-director of the referees committee of the Chinese Football Association (CFA), and a former CFA vice-president, Yang Yimin. Both men’s trials started in December. (Update: Their sentences have now been handed down.)

Some 20 referees, players, officials and coaches have been arrested in a crackdown that stared in 2009 to cleanse the scandal-tainted game. These include former CFA vice-president Nan Yong, who was arrested in March 2010, and his predecessor Xie Yalong. They are still awaiting trial.

Several top-flight clubs, including Shandong Luneng, Shanghai Shenhua, Henan Jianye, Changchun Yatai and Jiangsu Shuntian, were implicated in the scandal. Shanghai Shenhua, for which French international Nicolas Anelka has recently signed, spent nearly $1 million bribing officials and referees such as Lu, the court in Dandong in Liaoning trying Lu was told.

The corruption scandals have overshadowed a dismal performance on the field by China’s national team. Its men’s side has failed to qualify for the next World Cup in Brazil, as it failed to do for the previous two. It also failed to qualify for the London Olympics tournament later this year, as did even its women’s team, which has been a rare beacon of success for Chinese teams in recent years. Even more humbling, China’s national team ranks 76th in the world on FIFA’s rankings. Neighbors Japan and South Korea rank 30th and 34th respectively.

As well as cleaning up the professional game and restoring the luster of the Super League by importing stars like Anelka, the education and sports ministry has launched an aggressive youth development program, including bringing in Jan Riekerink, who was previously coach of the storied Ajax youth team in his native Holland. Meanwhile, more than 100 promising young players have been sent to top professional clubs in Europe and South America in the hope that they or their successors can form the nucleus of a national side that could compete in a World Cup on Chinese soil, still dreamed of by the CFA for 2026.

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China’s Soccer Needs Its Yao Ming

We are still trying to work out who has got the best end of this export deal. Corinthians, a top professional football team in Brazil, has signed Chen Zhizhao from Nanchang Hengyuan on a two-year loan. Chen will be the first Chinese to play in the Brazilian league.

The diminutive 23 year old striker has sufficient talent to have spent the last six months in a development camp for promising Chinese players in Portugal, giving him a smattering of Portuguese that will be helpful at his new club. But Corinthians make no secret of the fact that Chen will be no more than a squad player. Their main reason for taking him on is to raise the club’s profile in China. Not that there is anything wrong in that. Professional football is a business and plenty of European teams have take on Asian players for just such marketing purposes, knowing that if they become first team regulars it will be a bonus.

The most successful examples of Chinese playing abroad are probably Li Tie and Sun Jihai in the English Premier League in the early 2000s. Manchester United signed Dong Fangzhuo from Dalian Shidein 2004, hoping to repeat in China the marketing success they have had in South Korea with Park Ji-sung, but Dong never made the grade as a player. That may be the challenge for Chen in Brazil, and limit Corinthians return on their investment.

Our man in the world of muddied oafs says the real prize for foreign clubs among China’s rising generation of players is Deng Zhuoxiang, a 22 year old midfielder who plays for Shandong Luneng but the transfer price being asked for him is intentionally prohibitive. Yet what China’s troubled domestic game really needs now, even as it brings in top foreign stars like France international striker Nicholas Anelka, is a homegrown player to star for a top club in a top foreign league, just as Yao Ming’s success in the NBA in the U.S. boosted basketball at home.

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Anelka Could Help Chinese Football Kick On

Another sign, possibly, of the shifting sands of power from west to east. For a few years now aging European football stars have looked to the U.S. for a lucrative contract to see out their careers. One thinks of Beckenbauer and Chinaglia in the 1970s and Beckham and Henri more recently. This Bystander now sees reports that the 32-year-old French forward, Nicholas Anelka, who plays his club football for Chelsea, is in discussions to join Chinese Super League club, Shanghai Shenhua, on a three-year 60 million yuan deal (update: club says the deal is done). Another former France international, Jean Tigana, is reported to have been hired to coach the club. Ten of the head coaches at the 16 Super League clubs are foreigners, including Tigana’ compatriot, Philippe Troussier, at Shenzhen Ruby.

Shanghai Shenhua dropped to 11th last season in the Super League after being in the top five for the previous six seasons. The club is owned by Zhu Jun, founder of The9 Ltd, a Nasdaq-listed online games company. Zhu is a colorful character, to say the least, who once made his manager play him in an exhibition match against the British club, Liverpool. He is notorious for falling out with his players, so Anelka should fit right in. Zhu is also being sued by the Argentine football legend, Maradona, for alleged infringement of his image rights in a The9 game, Winning Goal.

One striker doesn’t make a spring, of course, and Anelka may prove to be the exception that proves the rule. Yet, if he does arrive as expected, he will augment a forward line that relies on the Argentine Luis Salmerón for its goals since Zhu sold some of the club’s best players. The sulky striker should also provide a diversion from the clean-up of the corruption and match-fixing scandal that has plagued the league. And if the Frenchman does prove to be a pathfinder, it would do no harm to Chinese football’s ambition to host the FIFA World Cup in 2026.

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Beijing And Tokyo Take Their Rivalry Into Football Administration

Even in the world of international football administration, Beijing and Tokyo don’t let their rivalry drop. Candidates hoping to replace the scandal-tainted Mohamed Bin Hammam as president of the Asian Football Confederation are already jockeying for position. Zhang Jilong, who is filling the position in an acting capacity following bin Hamman’s suspension by dint of being the AFC’s senior vice-president, is a candidate, but far from the favorite to head the 46 nation confederation permanently.

Although he can count on the support of the majority of the 10 members of the East Asian Football Federation (EAFF), he won’t be able to rely on that of Japan, which already thinks China has too much influence over the EAFF though itself, South Korea (and Australia) are the region’s leading soccer powers on the field. Japan’s own candidate is likely to be Kohzo Tashima, general secretary of the Japanese FA. If he runs he can expect South Korea’s support but not that of China and its EAFF allies. Beijing sees little chance of Tokyo being helpful to its push to secure a FIFA World Cup, and vice versa. Beyond that lies the bigger rivalry.

The internal regional bickering is likely to mean that a candidate from West Asia such as the Bahraini Sheikh Salman Bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa will emerge victorious. East Asia’s football federations will be left bewailing the continuing shift of power from East to West to the detriment of the growth of the sport in what should be some of its most dynamic countries.

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An Opportunity For A Chinese World Cup in 2026?

The corruption laced debacle that FIFA, world football’s governing body, has descended into may just open a door to China getting its dreamed-for first World Cup. Those who follow FIFA’s Byzantine intrigues tell us that the promises of septuagenarian Sepp Blatter, newly re-elected unopposed to a fourth term as president, to investigate allegations that Qatar bought its award of the 2022 World Cup, may lead to the bidding being reopened. (Qatar strongly denies the allegations.)

Even though FIFA’s member federations as a whole, and no longer just its executive committee, are meant to make the choice of World Cup hosts in future, scuttlebutt doing the rounds of FIFA’s Swiss headquarters holds that the 2022 tournament could be taken from Qatar and switched to the USA, which is now a candidate for the 2026 Cup. That would then open the way for China to host that tournament under FIFA’s informal system of continental rotation. Whether there is any credence to this chatter, and whether the unsuccessful bidders to host  “Asia’s” 2022 World Cup would demand it remained in the region and be staged by one of their number, this Bystander frankly has no idea. But in the looking-glass world of FIFA anything is possible.

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A Chinese Kick For Brazilian Sport

China knows how to build for and stage major international sporting events. The Beijing Olympics in 2008 was a success on both scores in anyone’s book. 2016 Olympics host, Rio de Janeiro, is to benefit from that expertise, as is football’s 2014 FIFA World Cup, also to be held in Brazil. Among the welter of bilateral agreements signed during Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff’s state visit to China this week is a cooperation and investment agreement for Chinese assistance at the two events.

Though details are scanty, FIFA will be relieved; it has been fretting that Brazil is running behind in developing the stadiums and other infrastructure for its tournament. A little Chinese civil engineering expertise should get the projects back on track. And for China, the goodwill that should generate with FIFA and a little up-close look at World Cup preparations shouldn’t go amiss as its own football association nurtures dreams of bidding for the World Cup in 2026.

 

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A Helping Bin Hammam Hand For China’s Football?

Mohamed bin Hammam, the Qatari businessman whose canditure challenging incumbent Sepp Blatter for the presidency of world football’s governing body, FIFA, was announced earlier this week, says he is running on his record of raising  the profile of Asian football, which is the fastest growth market in the world sport. “Asia is the future not only on the field but off the field,” he said during a campaign stop in Seoul this week.

Bin Hammam heads the confederation of Asian national football associations and was instrumental in helping his native emirate land the World Cup in 2022. One country that could use his help is China, which trails in the shadows of East Asia’s footballing powerhouses, South Korea and Japan–it ranks 76th in FIFA’s world rankings; the other two are in the top 30–yet the Chinese Football Association (FA) harbors ambitions to host a World Cup.

It is not just a lack of playing success. The country’s professional league has been wracked by a series of match-fixing, illegal gambling and bribery scandals and the FA has had its top administrators cleared out with some put on trial on corruption charges. Matters have reached the point where its main sponsor, Italian tyre manufacturer, Pirelli  (the company makes truck tyres in Shandong), scrapped its three-year contact worth a reported $6.8 million a year a year early just ahead of the opening of the new season last Friday. The league also doesn’t have a national TV coverage. State broadcaster CCTV is said not to be prepared to show games until after the corruption trial of former football association head Nan Yong.

While it is still far too early to prognosticate, should bin Hammam win the FIFA presidency vote on June 1, the most splendid thing he could do for football in China during his term of office might just be to be the FIFA president to announce that China had won the bidding to host the 2026 World Cup. But Chinese football has to do a lot of internal housecleaning first.

Update: Another sign of Asia’s growing importance to football and, indeed, all Western professional sports: The Wall Street Journal’s Exchange blog draws a straight line between China and the stake taken by U.S. basketball star LeBron James (the American Yao Ming) in Liverpool, the English Premier League football club sponsored by Hong Kong’s Standard Chartered bank and owned by Fenway Sports Group, American owners of the Boston Red Sox baseball team and which will be marketing James globally as part of their new deal.

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China: Shrinking Power, In Soccer At Least

China may be a growing power in the world of superpowerdom, but in the global game of football, it is a diminishing one, despite its ambition to host a FIFA World Cup. Its national team ranks a lowly 79th in the world and it now has no representation on FIFA’s executive committee (ExCo), the top table of world football’s governing body.

In that it shares the fate of Japan and South Korea, two nations with legitimate claims to be footballing powers. At elections earlier this month, all three failed to win places among the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) representatives to FIFA’s ExCo. Power within the AFC is tilting towards West Asia, symbolized by Qatar winning hosting rights for the 2022 World Cup, the emirate’s Mohamed Bin Hammam being re-elected as the AFC’s president and Jordan’s Prince Ali bin Hussein’s upset defeat of South Korea’s Chung Mong-joon for the FIFA vice-presidency.

There has been some talk within footballing circles of the 46-nation AFC splitting into eastern and western confederations, though AFC vice-president Zhang Jilong, China’s most senior representative at the confederation and who was one of the unsuccessful candidates for FIFA’s ExCo, plays down to possibility in an interview with World Football Insider. FIFA would not necessarily look favorably on an upstart break-up of the AFC, and Chinese football still has plenty to do in cleaning up its own scandal-plagued game before a World Cup bid is feasible.

 

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Cleansing China’s Corrupt Football

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.

 

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