Football Chiefs being jailed for ten-and-a-half years, referees accepting bribes, four national team players caught match fixing, teams going on strike and fans not wanting to watch any more. Can football in China really make a comeback?
Football in China hit rock bottom in 2012, in total over 50 officials and governing body members were sent to jail, 33 were banned for life. Incredibly, one of these was former Chief of Chinese football Xie Yalong and Vice-President Nan Yong, both were given ten-and-a-half year sentences and both were handed a fine of 200,000 Yuan (£20000). After being tortured and having his family threatened Xie confessed to accepting bribes of up to ¾ Million. These included Nike officials to secure a sponsorship deal with the Chinese Super League and Zhu Guanghu, in order to keep his place as National Team Coach. On the other hand Nan was guilty of accepting up to £140,000 in bribes. This is all kick started after a campaign to clean up Chinese football started in 2009. Unfortunately for the Super League this wasn’t the worst of it; four national team players were found guilty in accepting 8Million Yuan (£800,000) in bribes in order to fix domestic league matches. All were fined 500,000 Yuan and given up to 6 Year sentences.
Not only were players and governing members mixed up in all the corruption, it appeared officials had played a part too. Ex-Referee Lun Ju, who had previously refereed at the World Cup in 2002 and the Olympics in 2000, was put behind bars for five-and-a-half years. It was reported he accepted 790,000 Yuan to fix seven Super League matches. Ju’s imprisonment caused quite a storm showing a sharp decline in his fortunes since his impressive career achievements. One of the clubs he had said to have officiated and altered the outcome of were Shanghai Shenhua.
Shanghai Shenhua have been one of the biggest teams in terms of wealth and performance in the Super League. However the team was cast a bad image when it was found guilty of involvement in bribery. Chinese Media reported Shenhua offered bribes to officials to secure a 4-1 victory against Shanxi Guoli. In addition to being fined, the club were given a six-point penalty and were stripped of their 2003 title in what was formally known as the Chinese Jia-A League. In total 12 clubs were given financial or point-based penalties. Shenhua must have thought they turned a corner when they signed Nicolas Anelka and then Didier Drogba. Two big name players which arose plenty of excitement as these were some of the first globally named players to participate in the Super League. With Drogba on the back of winning a Champions League winners medal, Shenhua had hoped this would bring good publicity to not only the club but the Super League itself. Both were paid handsomely, Anelka’s salary was $12million annually and Drogba was on £200,000 a week. However both left only after one season, those saying money is everything were proved wrong. Anelka left to train with PSG with no real statement as to why he left. Drogba departed on more controversial grounds as he joined Galatasaray immediately after returning from the African Cup of Nations. Shenhua claim that Drogba is still their player and are ‘deeply shocked’ after taking on the Ivorian for a two-and-a-half year deal. It is very clear that something is very wrong to send both Drogba (11 games, 8 goals) and Anelka (22 games, 3 goals) running in the opposite direction only after one season.
It is clear to see with the evidence shown that football in China is in a terrible state, it got to the point at when fans were being interviewed they said the didn’t want to watch the game anymore. It was all fake. Something big needs to happen to grab Chinese football by the scruff of the neck and bring it back into the light. That ray of light has somehow appeared to be David Beckham, international superstar. With having previous experience in being an ambassador for the Olympic and World Cup 2018 bid, and not to mention his world loved reputation, this could be China’s man. David Beckham has taken up the role as ambassador for Chinese football, and with the new league only having just started, it seems like this is a new era for the Super League. Although many Chinese journalists feel there is no way back, even just the sheer presence of Beckham should create an impact big enough to start the change of Chinese footballs reputations. Beckham will take on a tour round China in a bid to promote a better side of football, one which should invoke passion. Make the youth of China fall back in love with the sport which has been ridden by treachery.
It will take time before we see an impact, if any from ‘Little Becks‘ as he is known in China. But it will take years before football can be returned to a normal state of affairs and all is forgotten. Football in China is in too deep, it needs serious help, Beckham is a start, however China needs something more. If they can lure big name players and create a league that has all of a sudden become very attractable, only then will the past be forgotten.