Football: China jails eight in corruption crackdown

Nan Yong speaks during the 2009 Chinese Football Association Super League in Beijing in 2009.

BEIJING - China Wednesday jailed two ex-chiefs of its football association, four former national team players and two others, in the culmination of a major crackdown on corruption in the scandal-plagued sport.

Former Chinese Football Association (CFA) head Nan Yong and his predecessor Xie Yalong were each given sentences of 10 years and six months for taking bribes, the official Xinhua news agency said.

Nan took bribes worth 1.48 million yuan (S$298,190) while Xie accepted 1.7 million yuan, it said.

The sentences mark the culmination of a campaign to root out entrenched graft in the Chinese game that has ensnared dozens of CFA and club officials, referees and players accused of match-fixing, gambling and other crimes.

The scandal - coupled with poor performances by the national team - have made football the laughing stock of Chinese fans and have undermined the popularity of the domestic game in the world's most populous country.

Xinhua said four former national team players and a former national team official were also sentenced by courts in the northeastern province of Liaoning for accepting bribes to fix domestic matches.

Wei Shaohui, the former national team official, was jailed for 10 years and six months.

Player Shen Si was sentenced to six years in jail while Qi Hong, Jiang Jin and Li Ming each received five-and-half year sentences.

State media has said Qi and Jiang - two key players on the Chinese national side who qualified for the 2002 World Cup finals - took bribes to fix a 2003 domestic game in which their team, Shanghai Guoji, lost to a rival.

The pair, along with former national teammates Shen and Li, took a total of at least 8.0 million yuan in bribes, Xinhua said.

Courts in the three cities which handed out the sentences, timed to be announced on the same day, could not be reached for comment.

Another former CFA official was jailed for nine years, while the former head of the southwest city of Chongqing's football association and the ex-manager of the city's Lifan club each received two years, though those sentences were suspended.

According to Xinhua, the crackdown on corruption - which began in 2009 - has seen 56 high-level football officials, players and referees put behind bars.

But it quoted experts as warning that Wednesday's sentences "should be a comma rather than a full stop in the fight against match-fixing, gambling, bribery and embezzlement that ravaged the Chinese professional soccer leagues".

"Will Chinese soccer be free of corruption after this houseclean? I am not that optimistic," the report quoted Chen Peide - the former head of the sports bureau in the eastern province of Zhejiang - as saying.

Chen has long been outspoken about corruption in the football world, and warned that "it will take a long time to solve the problem because the current system is a hotbed for corruption".

Meanwhile, many Internet users expressed sympathy for the players who were sentenced, saying they did not deserve such heavy punishment.

"If you use these standards (referring to the players' jail sentences), then Nan Yong and Xie Yalong should have been shot," one said on Sina's popular microblog service.

"A generation of stars... all in jail," another lamented.

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