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UPDATED: January 29, 2010 NO. 5 FEBRUARY 4, 2010
Soccer Turmoil
A nationwide crackdown on corruption, gambling and match fixing sweeps through the professional Chinese league

BIG STRIKE: Chinese national soccer player Gao Lin (left) breaks past Vietnamese national soccer defenders in a qualifying match for the Asian Cup on January 17, 2010 (XINHUA)

An investigation into gambling and match fixing among top officials in Chinese soccer's ruling body has rocked the troubled professional sport in the country.

Nan Yong, Executive Vice President of the Chinese Football Association (CFA), Yang Yimin, another CFA Vice President, and Zhang Jianqiang, the women's soccer chief who was also in charge of referee assignments, were detained according to law, the Ministry of Public Security (MPS) said on January 27.

The MPS announced earlier that Nan and Yang had been summoned by the police on January 15 to "clarify some facts in several important cases of soccer gambling and match fixing in domestic league games."

"With the full support of the State General Administration of Sport (SGAS), the crackdown on manipulating domestic soccer matches through bribery has shown China's firm attitude in fighting corruption and rectifying the game," said an MPS statement. "The crackdown also gives us confidence and hope to revitalize the development of Chinese soccer."

It was the third time the ministry has released details of an ongoing nationwide probe into match fixing and gambling that have been exposed in the sport.

Going deeper

On January 22, Cui Dalin, Vice Minister of the SGAS, announced the removal of the three officials from the association.

"These people and their acts have tainted the image of the CFA, put Chinese soccer into jeopardy and hurt the fans' feelings," Cui said. "We firmly support the police's efforts and are determined to punish any corruption or wrongdoing."

Nan, who took his post as CFA vice president last January, is suspected of being involved in a long-time financial arrangement with British company Iphox, the former title sponsor of the Chinese Super League, according to the Guangzhou-based newspaper Soccer News.

Nan was in charge of contract signing but did not take action after the company failed to pay more than 50 million yuan ($7.32 million) in the stipulated time. The money is still unpaid.

He has also been linked to the selection of host cities for the Chinese team's international matches. He reportedly used his power to allot matches to associations with which he had good connections.

Li Chengpeng, a football journalist and veteran commentator, said a battle is about to unfold now that senior CFA officials have been implicated in illegal activities.

"Bribery in soccer circles is organized, even if the president of the CFA can't compete with the interest groups behind clubs," Li told the Guangzhou-based Southern Weekend.

Ma Dexing, a reporter with Titan Sports, China's most popular sporting newspaper, said the move reflects the unprecedented determination by the government to tackle gambling and corruption on the soccer field, no matter whether the three officials are involved in the scam or not.

"The latest action doesn't look like a mere show as it did several years ago, when only the little shrimps were caught," Ma said.

There was sporadic cooperation between the CFA and police over the past decade but their efforts yielded few meaningful results.

In 2003, a Beijing court sentenced former international football referee Gong Jianping to 10 years in prison after convicting him of accepting at least 370,000 yuan ($54,172) in bribes. Several other referees and at least one former CFA official were implicated in the scandal.

Many sports insiders who said Gong was a scapegoat for powerful forces behind the scenes criticized the high-profile case, however.

So far, more than 100 current and former players, coaches, referees, club officials and industry insiders have been questioned, and at least 21 officials, players and club managers have been detained in the past two months on suspicions of match fixing or gambling.

"They (Nan and Yang) could face a maximum penalty of the death sentence if the charges against them are confirmed," said Sun Yu, a lawyer and Southwest University of Political Science and Law professor.

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