Former China Football Chief Given Life Sentence For ‘Huge’ Bribery

The former chairman of the Chinese Football Association has been sentenced to life in prison for collecting $11 million in bribes, state media reported Tuesday, as a number of sports executives were imprisoned for corruption.

Under President Xi Jinping, a broad crackdown on official corruption has hit hard at China’s sports industry, particularly football.

In recent years, the CFA has dismissed approximately ten senior officials and executives, including former national team coach Li Tie.

According to the Communist Party-run People’s Daily newspaper, former chairman Chen Xuyuan used his positions at the CFA and other bodies to “illegally accept sums of money from other people totalling 81.03 million yuan ($11 million)”.

The bribes were “particularly large,” and his actions “significantly undermined fair competition and order,” according to the investigation.

His actions have “caused serious consequences for the national football industry” , according to the report.

Xi is a self-proclaimed football aficionado who has stated that he hopes his country to host and win the World Cup.

Following the corruption investigation and years of lackluster performance on the field, that objective appears to be further away than ever.

National captain Zhang Linpeng announced his retirement from international football last week following the “disgrace” of a World Cup qualification match with Singapore, but later reversed his decision.

‘Common practices’

Chen held other positions in football before serving as CFA chairman from 2019 until he came under investigation in February last year.

In January, Chen appeared in a televised documentary confessing to having accepted money from those wishing to get in his good books.

“Fans can accept the fact that the state of Chinese football is bad,” Chen said in the documentary.

“But they cannot forgive corruption.”

Rulings in other major graft cases are expected to be announced on Tuesday, according to state news agency Xinhua.

They may include the fate of the former coach Li, who was close to Chen.

The former Everton midfielder admitted in the January documentary that he arranged nearly $430,000 in bribes to secure that position and also helped fix matches when he was a club coach.

“There were certain things that at the time were common practices in football,” he said.

Former senior CFA official Chen Yongliang was sentenced to 14 years in prison in two separate bribery cases revealed on Tuesday.

Dong Zheng, the former Chinese Super League general manager, received eight years.

According to state media, Yu Hongchen, the former leader of the China Athletic Association, was sentenced to 13 years in prison for the same conduct.

‘Broke my heart’

Another case that sent shockwaves through the Chinese football scene and beyond was that of South Korean international footballer Son Jun-ho, who was imprisoned by Chinese officials last May.

Beijing announced at the time that the World Cup player was detained “on suspicion of accepting bribes from non-state employees,” but did not elaborate.

Seoul’s foreign ministry announced Monday that he had been released and returned home.

Son played for Shandong Taishan in the Chinese Super League and competed in three of South Korea’s four matches at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.

Lee Jae-sung, an international teammate, expressed his gratitude for Son’s release to the media.

“It broke my heart when I first heard about his detention last year,” he said at a press conference in Bangkok, where South Korea will face Thailand later Tuesday in a World Cup qualifier.

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