Save men's soccer
2009-Nov-27 07:56:17

The high-profile judicial intervention is at best a belated confirmation of something glaringly obvious - Chinese men's soccer is a hotbed for everything unsavory.

With Ministry of Public Security and General Administration of Sport (GAS) officials vowing to be tough and thorough in the investigation of the match-fixing and gambling scandals, some expect this to be the "best and last" opportunity to save men's soccer.

It may well be the last. Because men's soccer in this country has alienated too many to sustain itself as a decent spectator sport. The better-than-expected revenues they just reported would, at the very best, be the last glow of dying embers unless serious housecleaning is undertaken.

But this definitely is not the best. That was missed years ago, around 2002, when the first arrest was made of a bribe-taking referee in the Chinese men's league. The Chinese Football Association (CFA) was well aware of the severity of corruption in the game but for unspecified reasons, it used kid gloves - letting other bribe-taking referees go free after they handed in some of the dirty money they had received. In return, they reportedly got a guarantee that the CFA would not investigate past sins.

While glad to see the investigation net spreading wider, we seriously wonder what it would have been like if the initiative had not come from the national leadership, or if one of the first subjects of the judicial probe had not been wanted by the Singaporean authorities via the Interpol.

Now, GAS sources promise to press ahead with the "anti-gambling storm", "even if with some sacrifice". We hope it is serious. For one thing, the cleaning-up cannot be thorough and complete unless it covers all people and organizations involved.

Everybody concerned about men's soccer in this country should rejoice over the latest arrests. And as the probes deepen and broaden, we can reasonably anticipate more to be made. But a lot of people believe these are small fry. They can fix some games, but evidently cannot make big waves. It takes more people, and in higher positions, to reduce the state of men's soccer to what it is. So people are talking about the "big fish".

Who are they? How big are they? These might be questions for the investigators.

With senior national leaders displaying unprecedented interest in soccer, and the State Council stepping in, this sport faces a precious opportunity to rejuvenate itself.

But unless there is a truly strong political will to get rid of the malicious tumor of corruption, that day may never come.

(China Daily 11/27/2009 page8)

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