Soccer boss says game can be saved
The new boss of scandal-ridden Chinese soccer vowed yesterday to put it back on the world stage as a sporting powerhouse by taking women's soccer back to the top and turning the men's team into one of Asia's finest.
With years of management experience in sports ranging from boxing to water sports, 55-year-old Wei Di was parachuted in to head the troubled Chinese Football Association (CFA) 10 days ago after three former leaders were implicated in corruption investigations in the biggest scandal to hit Chinese soccer - which was already considered a source of embarrassment to the nation.
'I admit I'm just a transition character,' Wei said yesterday. 'But I'll try my best to do something concrete in the next five years ... to bring the male soccer team back to tier one in Asia, and the female soccer team back to tier one in the world.' Match-fixing, illegal gambling, triad connections, bribes, kickbacks - the list of vices plaguing the Chinese Super League (CSL) and the soccer industry in general goes on.
The national men's team has also missed out on qualifying for the World Cup finals twice since making its maiden appearance at the tournament in 2002.
Even President Hu Jintao, Vice-President Xi Jinping and state councillor Liu Yandong have publicly voiced their concerns about the scandals and the baffling failure of Chinese soccer - after all, China won 51 gold medals at the Beijing Olympics in almost every other category of mainstream sport.
Wei listed three main directions for what he hoped to achieve during his term: building a professional league, nurturing youth soccer and raising the standard of the national team, which 'has to be at its lowest'. Wei said all three were related, but the standard of the league was of utmost importance because it was already a matter that touched on 'social stability'.
'Soccer is no longer just a sport. It has become a very unique social phenomena,' Wei said.
'The recent scandals have already greatly injured the feelings of the people ... I see [raising the standard of the league] a social responsibility.' More than a hundred soccer officials, players and club managers have been brought down since corruption investigations began in October. But the bombshell came last month when former CFA vice-chairmen Nan Yong and Yang Yimin disappeared, later confirmed to have been put under arrest.
Details of their cases remain sketchy but receiving bribes from sponsors and turning a blind eye to match-fixing are among suspected offences. At the weekend, Lu Feng , a protege of Nan's and the head of the company that runs the Chinese Super League, was also reported to be 'missing'.
Wei said preparations for this year's CSL were still going ahead in accordance with the original schedule of a March 20 start. However, since investigations into some of the soccer teams implicated in match-fixing were continuing, 'the opening of the season is not all in our [CFA] hands'. He denied reports teams would be allowed to participate in the league and have points deducted if investigations find them guilty.
There is a growing call for the government to retreat from controlling the sport and running the league, which some see as the fundamental origin of the many ills of China's soccer. Others see a reform of the CFA as a good starting point.
Soccer writer Ma Dexing said: 'Instead of making lofty goals, Wei has to focus on reforming the CFA in his five years - such as disallowing an official from commenting on a soccer team's performance.'
Wei acknowledged the need to leave the league to the market eventually, but said the government could only let go when there is 'an effective monitoring system', such as the setting up of a professional entry standard for clubs.