Life in jail for ex-China football chief over US$$11m bribery

By Matthew Walsh

The former chairman of the Chinese Football Association has been sentenced to life in prison for accepting bribes worth US$11 million, state media said Tuesday, as a string of sports officials were jailed for corruption.

Chen Xuyuan (centre), former chairman of Chinese Football Association, stands during his trial at the Huangshi Intermediate People’s Court in Huangshi city, in central China’s Hubei province on March 26, 2024. Photo: Handout/Huangshi Intermediate People’s Court/AFP.

Under President Xi Jinping, a sweeping crackdown on official graft has struck hard at China’s sports industry, especially football.

About 10 senior leaders and executives of the CFA, including former national team coach Li Tie, have been brought down in recent years.

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

The bribes were “particularly huge” and his actions “seriously damaged fair competition and order”, the report said.

He “caused serious consequences for the national football industry”, it added.

President of China, Xi Jinping arrives in London. File photo: UK Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office, via Flickr CC2.0.President of China, Xi Jinping arrives in London. File photo: UK Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office, via Flickr CC2.0.
President of China, Xi Jinping arrives in London. File photo: UK Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office, via Flickr CC2.0.

Xi is a self-confessed football fanatic who has said he dreams of his country hosting and winning the World Cup.

That ambition appears further away than ever after the corruption probe and years of disappointing results on the pitch.

National skipper Zhang Linpeng last week quit international football over the “disgrace” of a World Cup qualifying draw with Singapore, before reversing 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 US$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.

In separate bribery verdicts announced Tuesday, former senior CFA official Chen Yongliang was handed a 14-year sentence.

Former Chinese Super League general manager Dong Zheng received eight years.

State media also reported that Yu Hongchen, the former chairman of the China Athletic Association, had been sentenced to 13 years for the same crime.

‘Broke my heart’

Another case that sent shockwaves through the Chinese game and beyond was that of South Korean international footballer Son Jun-ho, who was detained by Chinese authorities last May.

Beijing said at the time that the World Cup midfielder was detained “on suspicion of accepting bribes by non-state employees”, without providing details.

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

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

International teammate Lee Jae-sung told media that he was grateful for Son’s release.

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

Dateline:

Beijing, China

Type of Story: News Service

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