Sentences were handed down in corruption trials targeting former Chinese Football Association officials as well as players yesterday in northeastern Liaoning province. The sentences have fans hoping that this is the blow necessary to stamp out corruption and match fixing in Chinese football.
Former CFA heads Nan Yong and Xie Yalong were both sentenced to ten and a half years in jail for their bribe taking of around $250,000 each. The verdicts were in line with what was expected and similar to the punishments that referees caught up in the corruption scandal received earlier this year.
Only a trickle of facts from the trials were ever released in the media, but it was obvious that guilty verdicts would be handed down almost from the start. Xie protested that his confessions were coerced and that he was tortured, but this was generally ignored.
Also receiving sentences yesterday were four former national teamers and members of China’s 2002 World Cup squad, including Qi Hong and Shen Si. The four were part of a match fixing scandal that saw Shanghai Shenhua (allegedly) buy the 2003 league title.
The publicity surrounding these trials and the new attention for Chinese football internationally has fans hoping that the “bad old days” of corruption are now a thing of the past. Yet there are still plenty of pessimists who feel that this corruption case wasn’t thorough enough and not all guilty parties were caught in the net.
It’s extremely difficult to say what the outcome of these trials really means. Whilst its generally accepted that the game has been cleaner for the last few years, the opaque nature of Chinese society means that suspicion of match-fixing is always there. Even if there is nothing going wrong at any particular moment, there will always be those who believe something is amiss even when there isn’t.
Most of all its important to keep things in perspective – Italy is embroiled in another scandal at the moment, its just one of many which have come to the fore in recent years, proving that corruption in football is far from a Chinese problem only. And whilst these punishments and investigations are to be welcomed, its unwise to take anything at face value in China.
The only long term solution to the issue is full transparency at all levels.