More red cards seen in soccer probe

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 22 September, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 22 September, 2010, 12:00am

The detention of more of the men who used to run mainland soccer has surprised many insiders who say it signals a new wave in the sport's anti-corruption drive.

But they also say it is hard to tell what the target of the campaign is and who will be the next to fall.

The Ministry of Public Security confirmed early last week that former China Football Association (CFA) chief Xie Yalong, former national team manager Wei Shaohui and Li Dongsheng, the former director of the CFA's referee committee, had been detained for investigation.

State media also reported last week that Li Tong, a former Olympic hurdler and now a marketing director for US sportswear giant Nike, was detained for about a week by police and questioned about Nike's huge sponsorship deal with the mainland's Super League and his relationship with Nan Yong, Xie's successor.

Nan and two of his top aides were formally arrested early this year for alleged match-fixing and bribery.

Mainland soccer circles had once speculated that the crackdown, targeting official corruption, match-fixing, and gambling, was close to an end after Nan's detention. But the recent police action is a reminder that the campaign is continuing.

'You can say it's a little surprising to see Xie detained,' Ma Dexing, the deputy editor of sports newspaper Titan Sports Weekly, said. 'But as outsiders, we really do not know what the state leaders' next step will be. It's a top-down campaign.'

Mainland media and some sportswriters have speculated that Cui Dalin, a former deputy minister in charge of soccer at the General Administration of Sport, could be linked to the Xie or Nan cases.

'We had thought that Nan was the end of the story but it might not be the case,' Liu Xiaoxin , chief editor of Soccer News said. 'People are guessing Cui might be the next one but it really depends on what the top leaders want to do.'

He said Cui, as a deputy minister, was a level higher than Xie or Nan. 'Maybe the campaign will end at Xie and Nan's level but it is hard to tell right now,' Liu said.

Cui has repeatedly denied being involved in the investigation after Xie was detained. 'I do not know who made up such rumours but police have never asked me to help their investigation,' Xinhua quoted Cui as saying late last week.

Xie served as the head of the CFA between 2005 and last year. Before that, he was secretary to former General Administration of Sport chief Wu Shaozu and headed various administration departments from the mid-1990s. After Xie was detained, mainland media ran stories about the possible causes of his downfall. Without giving any evidence, some said he might have taken bribes from national team players and been involved in match-fixing.

Ma said most of the stories printed about Xie and Nan were just speculation. 'I regard them as fiction,' he said. In an interview with Ma's paper, some of Xie's family members also denied the media speculation. They said Xie had, on several occasions, wanted to resign from CFA positions.

'China soccer is like a heavy truck going downhill,' one family member quoted Xie as saying. 'Almost everyone is pushing it further down. We want to stop it but can't.'