FALLEN OFFICIALS: Xie Yalong (Right), former Vice President of the Chinese Football Association, pays an inspection visit to the Kunming Tuodong Stadium, Yunnan Province, with Wei Shaohui, former leader of China's national football team, on January 5, 2008 (ZOU ZHENG)
During the new round of probes into gambling and match-fixing in the professional Chinese soccer system, three former officials, including former Vice President of the Chinese Football Association (CFA) Xie Yalong, were arrested on charges of bribery, indicating the determination of China to overhaul its soccer management team.
Wei Shaohui, the former manager of China's national football team, and Li Dongsheng, the former Director of the CFA's Referee Committee, were also arrested, the police confirmed early this month.
The trio makes for a total of nine CFA officials who have been arrested on corruption charges or are being investigated in the past 10 months.
Industrial insiders say professional soccer in China is like a weird hybrid of naked commerce and bureaucracy. Many share the belief that Chinese soccer, on the men's side in particular, has no future without a thorough housecleaning.
Gambling, match-fixing, crooked referees and poor performances by the national team have made the sport a matter of mounting state concern.
On September 12, the Ministry of Public Security confirmed in a statement that police had officially launched investigations regarding the three former soccer officials. The ministry said "police and prosecutors have obtained clues after receiving tips" with the help of the General Administration of Sport.
The investigations are part of a widening gambling and match-fixing probe, according to the ministry.
The probe was launched in November last year and has so far netted more than a dozen players and officials, including Xie's successor Nan Yong, another former head of the CFA who was detained on January 15. They were arrested on suspicion of bribing players and referees to manipulate the outcome of games they had bet on.
Xie, 55, born in southwest China's Chongqing Municipality, was appointed vice president of the CFA and chief of the Chinese Soccer Administrative Center in 2005, a position he held for three years. His tenure ended unsatisfactorily after the national men's soccer team was eliminated without a single win in the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games and failed to qualify for the 2010 World Cup.
Although Xie was fiercely attacked by fans for his performance, he was reassigned in 2009 to a comfortable position—Board Chairman of the China Sports Industry Group, the only listed company under the General Administration of Sport. The company is involved in real estate, as well as operating and scheduling sports competitions.
On September 27, China Central Television (CCTV) reported that Xie had been removed from his post in the company.
Liu Peng, Minister of the General Administration of Sport of China, broke his silence on the subject during an interview with CCTV on September 27.
Liu said that there would be no hope for China's football if gambling and match-fixing, which he described as a tumor, were not eradicated.
Liu said the CFA is keen to reform football, and change a system that sees the body not only organizing but also supervising matches.
"An irrational system also leads to corruption. Therefore, reform is necessary. We are now considering measures for the reform," he said.
Meanwhile, the Ministry of Public Security also confirmed that investigations against three soccer referees accused of taking bribes and match fixing, Lu Jun, Huang Junjie and Zhou Weixin, had concluded and the cases were transferred to the prosecution.
All three had confessed to the crimes they were accused of, according to the ministry.
The three referees were detained in March, pushing the credibility of Chinese referees to an all-time low.
Lu, who officiated two matches at the 2002 World Cup finals in South Korea and Japan, was dubbed the "golden whistle" for his supposed integrity when China was in the thrall of the earlier "black whistles" scandal some eight years ago.
Huang, 43, was also an active FIFA international referee since 1998. He had taken charge of several internationals, including World Cup qualifiers featuring Japan and Saudi Arabia.
Lawyer Xu Lanting told the Legal Evening News the three will face a maximum 15 years of punishment according to the Criminal Law of China.
The CFA had made the integrity of match officials central in its attempts to reform the game and more than 200 referees were sent on a five-day "Anti-corruption Rectification Education Camp" in March. In the future, the selection of referees will be an independent process, said Wei Di, Director of the Soccer Administrative Center of the General Administration of Sport of China.
"We will adopt a new mechanism to improve our management. No leader of the CFA, including me, can decide which referee to use," he said.