January 25, 2010

Match fixing scandals plague China’s domestic league

In the latest blow to the world of Chinese football, three high-ranking officials in the Chinese Football Association (CFA) have been detained under suspicion of being involved in match-fixing. The arrests represent a goal on the part of a recent high-profile campaign to clean up the nation’s football leagues and to stop recent trends of match fixing and illegal sports gambling.

Chinese gambling laws have not changed much since 1949, when most forms of gambling in the country were made illegal. Today, a limited sports lottery represents the extent of ‘official’ sports betting in the country. Even though this lottery sees annual profits in excess of $1 billion, this pales in comparison to the amount of money exchanged through underground sports betting operations, and through online sportsbooks in China.

The officials who were detained are Nan Yong and Yang Yimin, both vice-presidents of the Chinese Football Association (CFA), and Zhang Jianqiang, who was in charge of referee assignments. These detentions occurred on the tail of two others last week: Jia Xiuquan, former head coach of the national Olympic team, and Shanghai Shenhua of the Chinese Super League (CSL) are also being questioned by police.

Unfortunately, the problems with Chinese football go beyond match fixing. Nan, one of the men detained, is also accused of using his connections to pick host cities for international matches that offer good “connections” for him and his associates. Nan is also thought to be involved in some kind of deal with former sponsor Iphox, a British company that pledged 50 million yuan ($7.3 million). Iphox has yet to pay, and Nan, though responsible for the contract, has yet to go after the money.

Some believe that nothing short of a complete restructuring of CFA management can save Chinese football. This might be just what is happening here. While this kind of “house cleaning” won’t necessarily end the problems with internet betting in China, it seems like a good enough place to start.

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