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Distorted Market Rules Create Football Mess

07-03 15:02 Caijing
The CFA is unable to conduct effective business development and promotion efforts as the operator of the league; instead, it exploits clubs for limited income from league matches.

By staff reporters Ling Xin and Zhang Lu, and contributing writers Wu Jinyong and Zhang Wenli

Four former Shanghai International football players were sentenced June 13 for taking 8 million yuan in bribes to fix the last match of the 2003 Chinese Football League A, the predecessor of the Chinese Super League, in order to protect another team from relegation.

Between February and June this year, various parties, including officials at the Chinese Football Association (CFA), referees, executives at football clubs, and football players have been sentenced to jail for accepting or offering bribes. The crackdown on football gambling and corruption in China has halted for the time being.

Chinese football has been haunted by scandals of match-fixing and bribery since professional leagues were first introduced in 1994, but the details of wrongdoing were only known to industry insiders until they were exposed by large-scale judicial intervention in recent years.

Police in Singapore issued a "red notice" for the arrest of former Shenyang footballer Wang Xin in 2008, inadvertently triggering a crackdown on gambling and corruption in the Chinese football industry. When Wang was arrested in April 2009, he not only confessed to fixing Singapore professional football league matches by manipulating players, but also admitted to his involvement in match-fixing in domestic league matches. Later, Wang Po, the former general manager of several football clubs, was brought to court. During his trial, Wang implicated executives at other clubs who engaged in match-fixing as well as CFA staff who manipulated domestic league matches.

More scandals soon emerged: the Qingdao Hailifeng vs. Chengdu Blades match-fixing scandal involved some 30 people including club managers, football players, coaches, and bribery brokers.

An investigation showed that senior CFA officials Nan Yong, Yang Yimin, Xie Yalong, and Zhang Jianqiang as well as four world-class referees were implicated in match-fixing scandals. 

A “classic case” of match-fixing took place on Nov. 30, 2003, when Tianjin Teda beat Shanghai International 2-1. Zhang Yifeng, executive manager of Tianjin Teda, offered 12 million yuan in bribes to help the team win. Four players at Shanghai International each took 2 million yuan, while the other 4 million yuan was carved up by two bribery brokers. Pi Qiansheng, a senior official from Tianjin Municipality, the home city of Tianjin Teda, acquiesced to the bribery.

Government pressure is an important yet often hidden contributor to match-fixing in football league matches in China. Yang Xu, deputy general manager of Guangzhou Pharmaceutical team, was also arrested for bribing opposing clubs to throw matches. A year before he took the position, Guangzhou, the home city of Guangzhou Pharmaceutical, included the “creation of a strong football team” in the city’s government plan, proclaiming that “Guangzhou will have a high-level, professional football team.” Yang claimed he resorted to bribery because the higher-ups [the municipal government] “exerted a lot of pressure on us.”

Chinese football league matches have been criticized for excessive administrative intervention, which can be attributed to the fact that the property and management rights to the leagues are controlled by the CFA, a de facto government agency. Football clubs must abide by all decisions made by the CFA. The CFA is unable to conduct effective business development and promotion efforts as the operator of the league; instead, it exploits clubs for limited income from league matches.

In the meantime, public functions which should be undertaken by government departments, such as establishing public sports facilities and encouraging kids to play football, are ignored by the CFA. China has the world's largest population; however, only 7,000 teenage footballers have registered at the CFA; in contrast, Japan has 600,000 registered teenage football players while Spain has up to 650,000.

Discussing the future direction of Chinese football league reform, Xu Jiayin, investor of Guangzhou Evergrande Football Club, recommends speeding up institutional reform to establish an “independent operational mechanism” for the professional leagues, for instance, setting up independent league companies to operate each tier of domestic professional league matches. “The league companies would be owned by the clubs and managed by professional managers under the leadership of a board of directors.”

1 yuan = 15 U.S. cents

Full article in Chinese: http://magazine.caijing.com.cn/2012-07-01/111921880.html
 

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