Zhu Yuan

How corrupt and unsportsmanlike is soccer?

By Zhu Yuan (China Daily)
Updated: 2010-01-27 07:06
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Can you call it a soccer match anymore when players want to lose, rather than win, the game? Throwing games has been happening frequently in the Chinese primary league competitions for the past several years. And it's all because of the gambling behind the competitions.

In a recently published book Inside Story of Chinese Soccer by Li Chengpeng, a reporter who has been covering soccer for many years, the sport is exposed. Competitions, according to the book, have been manipulated by those who can earn millions of yuan if a team wins or loses a match as they predict. Players were paid to lose a match; so were referees, coaches and others.

To be frank, I am not clear yet about how gambling is done in soccer and where the money comes from. I don't think many people are. But almost all Chinese people, who now and then spare some time to watch a match and are concerned about the sport, are disappointed at the poor performance of the Chinese national soccer team.

In the early 1980s, the national team was one of the best in Asia. The players, with their wholehearted devotion to training and matches, played their way to the World Cup. Soccer fans were so obsessed that they even vented their anger by causing a street riot when the national team lost a match they believed should have been won.

Of course, setting fire to cars or vandalizing properties is always a bad way of venting anger. Yet, the acts demonstrate how much soccer fans loved their team.

Now, it would be unimaginable for any Chinese soccer fan to be that excited about a match. According to one Chinese proverb, nothing gives more cause for sorrow than despair. When those who have been concerned with the Chinese national soccer team's performance haven't got anything but despair in the past decade or so, can they be still expected to feel any enthusiasm about this sport?

Many used to accuse Chinese soccer players of lacking professionalism and dedication to the sport. Their bad habits of excessive drinking, visiting prostitutes or other decadent lifestyles were blamed as the major causes of their failures in big international competitions. But the players' bad habits can hardly explain why the Chinese soccer team can degenerate from one of the best in Asia in the early 1980s to now being one of the worst in this continent.

Through this book, I've found out that China's primary league competitions themselves have become a business for players, coaches or managers who have been deeply involved in soccer gambling. It is no longer important for a team to win a match. Instead, only winning money from gambling on the sport matters.

What makes the situation even worse is the corruption of the sport's management. It has been revealed that players have to pay money to be admitted into the national team, even the national youth team under the age of 18. Once players have the experience of being on the national team, they can ask for a much higher pay when they join a local team. The same is true for coaches.

Little wonder that even three top leaders of the Chinese Football Association have been under surveillance by the police for allegedly gambling on the sport as well as corruption.

With more than a dozen people, including some players, detained by police in their investigation, why Chinese soccer has degenerated has become obvious: When players or even coaches do not have a sense of honor and incentive to win matches, how can we expect them to play well in international competitions?

This writer said to South China Weekend in an interview that we are not qualified to play a sport based on fair principles. This may sound offensive to soccer fans and even to most Chinese. But he is right when it comes to the corruption and filthiness of soccer.

E-mail: zhuyuan@chinadaily.com.cn

(China Daily 01/27/2010 page8)