CFA should be booted out for breaking independence rules, say critics
Critics of soccer on the mainland claim the Chinese Football Association (CFA) is in breach of the rules of Fifa, world soccer's governing body, and should be suspended.
They claim China fails to comply with Article 17 of Fifa's constitution because it is not independent of the government and does not elect its senior officials - including the new president, Cui Dalin, the former deputy minister of the General Administration of Sports, a government ministry.
'It's really disappointing that the world governing body turns a blind eye to the illegitimacy of the CFA,' says David Yang, the editor of China Sports Review.
However, China's national sports law prohibits the independent election of sports bodies. Appointments within and to the CFA are decided by the General Administration of Sports (GAS), which in turn answers to the State Council, China's cabinet. The GAS also appoints the chiefs of provincial football associations - organisations that, under Fifa law, are supposed to answer to the CFA. Instead, they answer directly to their respective provincial sports' departments.
This complex, top-down approach means that there is a lack of internal and external scrutiny over important issues such as how talent is identified and developed, how to generate revenue to be ploughed back into grass-roots soccer and how to weed out the corruption that blights the game's reputation.
'Instead of there being procedures to guarantee independence of the CFA, as Fifa law demands, there are instead procedures to make sure the government remains in control of football,' argues Rowan Simons, author and chairman of China Club Football, an independent company seeking to develop the amateur game on the mainland.
'The lack of devolution means elitist, short-termism persists as political leaders come and go. China needs a 20- to 30-year plan, not a three- to four-year plan that it has at present. Fifa should step in.'
Without CFA independence, the spectre of corruption will continue to haunt and undermine the sport's reputation - something Fifa has long been keen to quickly stamp out.
Countries where governments meddle with football are thrown out by Fifa.
Kenya, Poland and Iran have previously been suspended from the international football family for breaching the law. The Brunei and Iraq football associations are currently out in the cold - but not China.
'I have approached various Fifa officials and they say unless the CFA complains about a breach of Article 17 by the government, it can do nothing,' says Simons. 'It's pretty obvious that if the government is in charge; it is hardly going to complain about itself.'
Fifa says a complaint has never been received from China, so in its eyes there is not a case to answer.
'Fifa is an organisation which deals with football, and works mainly with the football entities in each country. Any formal request to investigate any issue related to our member associations would have to come, in principle, from members of the football family within a country,' a spokesman says.
When pressed, it issues a statement that says: 'Fifa is committed to assisting as much as possible to the development of football. Many courses and projects have been conducted in China.
'Please understand that Fifa, as a sporting body, cannot go into the political situation of any given country. Fifa deals with its member associations in relation to football.'
Yet this does not appease critics that claim Fifa should wield the big stick and make the CFA fall into line, forcing it to become independent so as to help develop the amateur game through raising the standard of the professional leagues and international team.
'President Hu Jintao said China should copy the 'Zhihang Spirit' to develop football, referring to one of our former international players [Rong Zhihang], who was recognised as a fair, honest player. But it's Fifa who should adopt his spirit,' says Yang, of China Sports Review.
Despite repeated requests for an interview, the CFA and government sports departments refused to comment on Article 17 and its own laws governing football.
Article 17: Independence of members and their bodies
1 Each member shall manage its affairs independently and with no influence from third parties.
2 A member's bodies shall be either elected or appointed in that association. A member's statutes shall provide for a procedure that guarantees the complete independence of the election or appointment.
3 Any member's bodies that have not been elected or appointed in compliance with the provisions of paragraph 2, even on an interim basis, shall not be recognised by Fifa.
4 Decisions passed by bodies that have not been elected or appointed in compliance with paragraph 2 shall not be recognised by Fifa.