Alleged corruption at the top of Chinese football has undermined President Xi Jinping’s dream of his country becoming a global power in the sport. it seems further away than ever.
China’s most powerful leader in decades is a famous football fan and his country wants to host and even win one day. World Cup.
Chinese clubs in the past few years have made headlines for spending big money on foreign players, but many teams have folded under the weight of financial problems and non-Covid strictures.
Now Xi’s anti-corruption campaign is focused on the country’s dysfunctional game, with at least four leaders i o businesses have been in trouble with the law since November.
Chief among them is the head of the Chinese Football Association (CFA), Chen Xuyuan, who is being investigated for “serious violations of discipline and law”, according to a statement by the government sports office this week.
Former national team coach and Premier League football coach Li Tie was also under investigation last year.
The suspension is “definitely the most corrupt investigation in Chinese football”, said Beijing’s sports consultant William Bi.
The impact of the campaign can be more than a corruption in the last decade where issues of match-fixing, fraud and gambling have been revealed, of he told AFP.
A former Shanghai employee, Chen stepped in to head the CFA on a promise to launch a “new image” for Chinese football and manage a league with a reputation for big spending and corruption. the management of money.
But the change was delayed and the bad performance of the national team caused them to be ineligible for the 2022 World Cup, the bad competition that led Li to his career.
China, ranked 79th in the world, has only qualified for the World Cup once, in 2002. They lost all three games without conceding a goal.
The 45-year-old Lie is one of China’s most famous international players and is best known for a spell with Everton in the 2000s.
He became the subject of a corruption investigation in November before two other senior CFA officials – Chen Yongliang and Liu Yi – came under the microscope in January, according to official announcements.
None of the four men’s alleged wrongdoers have been formally identified and the Chinese National Sports Authority did not respond to an AFP request for comment.
The rapid growth of popular football in China has made it “a huge economy compared to other sports” in the country, said Ping Wu, a senior lecturer in sports sociology and media studies at UK. at the University of Bedfordshire.
“Where money shines, corruption often happens, this is a normal situation,” he said.
Dark clouds have gathered over China’s football industry even in the current crackdown on corruption, with China’s Super League clubs scrapping the free-spending culture that lured big names to like Oscar, Hulk and Carlos Tevez.
Xi’s signature zero-Covid plan has raised fixture lists, emptied stadiums and prompted the cancellation of international games such as the Asian Cup in Chinese.
“A lot of teams are struggling with financial problems and a lot of teams have bad salaries,” said Bi.
“It’s a big difference from the gold rush of seven or eight years ago.”
“There is no doubt” that the country is lagging behind in its ambition to become a major football power, he said, adding: “The development of Chinese football has reached a new low.”
Simon Chadwick, professor of sports and geopolitical economy at the Skema Business School in Paris, said that corruption is only one part of a “more organized and systematic problem” in the Chinese game.
He saw “a toxic mixture of a heavy-handed state and speculative businessmen and investors” who tried to encourage its development.
“Governments often take years to establish the foundations for high-level success,” he said, describing the corruption crisis as a “spontaneous response to short-term and intermediate failure”.
But Wu is hopeful for the future.
“Corruption is a problem but investigating corruption is not,” he said.
“Instead, ongoing research shows that the Chinese government is taking steps to clean up the pollution.”
And despite the many problems on the field, “China has become a great force in football support”, said Wu.
The country is hoping to push harder for qualification for the expanded World Cup in 2026 and is likely to host the tournament in soon.
China has been building and has stadiums to do it.
“Hosting the Beijing 2008 Summer Olympics and the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics made China excel in many sports that are not their forte,” he said.
“Similarly, hosting the World Cup final will promote the positive development of men’s football in China.”
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