Doubts hover as anti-corrutpion war draws to close

Updated: 2012-06-14 10:58


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SHENGYANG, North China - A last-ditch campaign to clean up Chinese soccer was wrapped up on Wednesday as eight more people were put behind the bars.

Two former directors of the Chinese Football Administrative Center, Nan Yong and Xie Yalong, were both sentenced to more than 10 years of imprisonment for taking bribes.

Qi Hong and Shen Si, key players in China's one and only trip to the World Cup finals, were among the four former internationals who received their punishments on Wednesday.

They joined World Cup referee and "Golden Whistle" Lu Jun who was sentenced to five years and six months in prison in previous trials in April.

Till now, the nationwide crackdown on soccer corruption that started in 2009 and the subsequent trials that lasted for six months put a total of 56 high-level soccer officials, top players, famous referees and club officials behind the bars.

However, some believed that Wednesday's verdicts should be a comma rather than a full stop in the fight against match-fixing, gambling, bribery and embezzlement that ravaged the Chinese professional soccer leagues for over a dozen years.

Go chess master Nie Weiping was straightforward in pointing out that the campaign was an unfinished business.

"It was not a thorough campaign. Many are off the hook," the enthusiastic fan and keen critic of Chinese soccer was quoted as saying by Zhengzhou Evening news.

His view was echoed by former Zhejiang sports chief Chen Peide. "Will Chinese soccer be free of corruption after this houseclean? I am not that optimistic," said the outspoken Chen.

Chen publicly attacked soccer corruption in 2001, leading to the first wave of crackdown which only saw one referee, Gong Jianping, sentenced to 10 years of imprisonment. Gong died of cancer in the second year.

"It will take long time to solve the problem because the current system is a hotbed for corruption," he said.

Under the current system, the Chinese Football Association (CFA) runs the professional leagues and supervises its own running, which was regarded by many as the main reason for corruption.

In a bid to rebuild the game's reputation, the CFA finally decided to assemble an independent professional league council which will work on development path for the leagues and make decisions such as the setting of foreign player quota.

The CFA also promised to give a boost to China Football Industry Development Corp, a company responsible for the leagues' marketing.

The CFA's efforts, however, were not fully appreciated by clubs as Super League club Guangzhou Evergrande boss Xu Jiayin slammed the soccer body for running pseudo-professional leagues.

"We need a company to operate the leagues of all levels instead of the China Football Industry Development Corp that is actually a marketing department of the CFA,"said Xu. "The company ought to be run by shareholders from the clubs," he added.

Xu also pointed out that dwindling soccer population was a major threat to the sport. According to the CFA, the soccer population has dropped from 500,000 in 2000 to just 50,000.

Among all the bad news, there is one piece that brings a light of hope to the Chinese soccer.

Partly thanks to the anti-graft war, clubs have restored some interest in investing in the league.

High profile players and coaches land on the Chinese Super League clubs as former Italy coach Marcello Lippi joined Evengrande and France international Nicolas Anelka became player-coach of Shanghai Shenhua club.

A total of 4.23 million fans poured into the stadia to watch the Chinese Super League (CSL) matches, a new record since the CSL was launched in the year of 2004. Chinese national TV also resumed broadcasting league matches this season.