Chinese Football Association

Pot meets kettle as Fifa gives China corruption advice

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 05 June, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 05 June, 2011, 12:00am

Atmospheric conditions in Beijing and Switzerland have been identical this week, causing many a powerful man in the game of football to grow hot under the collar.

The self-described 'captain of the Fifa ship' Sepp Blatter, re-elected unopposed for a fourth time as president of the embittered world body on Wednesday, and Wei Di, the president of the beleaguered Chinese Football Association (CFA), have both been complaining of heat.

After months under the graft-probing spotlight, one can only imagine under-siege Blatter cranked up the air-con in his Zurich hotel suite following his tawdry yet victorious struggle to maintain his white-knuckle grip on the Fifa helm.

In Beijing, Wei is also mopping his brow regularly.

Wei is tasked with getting the Good Ship CFA - currently undergoing a government-ordered overhaul - down the slipway and into the 2014 Brazil World Cup; his numerous predecessors spat out of the CFA's revolving door can attest such a launch is no easy feat.

With the temperature sticky for both football leaders, we learned that just as the corruption scandal engulfed Fifa's Congress, seven Fifa officials slipped in and out of China almost unnoticed to offer Wei and the CFA advice - on how to tackle corruption, improve ethics, transparency and fair play.

The timing could not have been more ironic.

Themed 'You do, And We do!', a much lauded Fifa principle, the visit was led by football development head Urs Zanitti. He told the CFA to communicate better with other football associations, aka the rest of the world.

China 'is more open and willing to open up', he concluded after his meetings.

Wei also told a select gathering of state-media journalists that Zanitti and Co caused him to break out in a sweat - literally.

'I was sweaty at the meeting, partly because the weather was quite hot, but mostly because the Fifa experts pointed out many problems inside the CFA and Chinese soccer,' he said. 'One problem comes from our loose work arrangements and another is the poor operating ability of our association,'

The CFA has for decades been blighted by corruption, offering China's long-suffering fans an unsavoury yet steady diet of on- and off-field ill-discipline, corrupt referees, poor football and bad governance.

Failure to qualify for last year's South Africa World Cup brought national shame and intervention from President Hu Jintao.

A dragnet to dredge Chinese soccer of the murky sludge that keeps it a footballing backwater followed, and several top CFA officials were subsequently arrested, most on corruption charges.

Calls to both Fifa and the CFA to elaborate on what one imagines was a critical three-day visit, failed.

The audacious Fifa finger wagging at the CFA to open and clean up its house caused a mixture of mirth and displeasure in China's independent football community, as one might expect.

It's worth noting two other objects that conduct heat as effectively as Fifa and CFA officials are cooking pots and kettles. And similar to the underside of these utensils, Fifa and the CFA's seedy underbellies blacken their reputations.

Little wonder that one telling the other how to behave given current events is viewed by many as ironic.

The ill-timing of the meeting underscores the reasons why the English FA and the Scottish FA led the charge to suspend the Fifa congress presidential election this week.

The Scottish and the English said Fifa's credibility has been lost due to the allegations of corruption against senior Fifa executives, including presidential contender Mohamed bin Hammam.

Only a full opening of its books and a pluralistic democratic election, with others standing against helmsman Blatter, could restore confidence in the world body, went their argument.

'It is extremely important Fifa sets the best example and this would hold true based on the evidence of the CFA [situation],' Darryl Broadfoot from the Scottish FA said.

An English FA spokesman said its statement calling for a suspension of the vote because of Fifa's lack of transparency and accountability underscored how much harder it has become for Fifa to tell developing nations how to behave.

Unfazed, Zanitti concluded after his meetings: 'We are glad to see the CFA is becoming more open and more willing to work with Fifa to improve soccer in China.'

Rowan Simons, the founder of Club Football, a grassroots organisation promoting youth and amateur football on the mainland, said Wei was wrong to fret about Fifa's high standards - and should not be sweating at all.

'He should be mightily relived that Fifa has come to talk to him and still recognise the CFA as the football authority in China,' Simons said. 'Fifa is still turning a blind eye to a breach of its very own key constitutional statute.'

As revealed by the South China Morning Post in late 2009, 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 Wei.

China's sports law prohibits the independent election of sports bodies. The CFA is accountable and overseen by the General Administration of Sports, a government ministry, answering to the State Council, China's cabinet.

Fifa suspends other countries that break Article 17, but not China. When asked why, Fifa says unless the CFA complains about its own structure, it cannot act. It is these fuzzy rules and inconsistencies that many within football want clarifying - and then upheld for the good of the game.

Simons said Bin Hammam, who has also been suspended as Asian Football Confederation chief, offered some hope of reform in China. 'In his manifesto, he said he would be willing to reach out and listen to the views of non-football association stakeholders in the game who currently have no say. That would help China's development.'

David Yang runs China Sports Review and is a critic of the way the mainland runs its football.

'I can't say if Fifa has lost its credibility,' he said. 'What I do know is that for over a decade, Fifa has been turning a blind eye to the welfare of Chinese footballers. China ignored the Bosman Ruling and the CFA set up its own stringent transfer rules, which stipulate that a player belongs to a club for 30 months after his contract runs out.'

This bureaucracy, argued Yang, results in 'a huge loss of manpower and experience for Chinese football - especially with so few experienced Chinese coaches'.

'Did Fifa tackle Wei Di over this during their meetings?' he asked.

We went back to Fifa and a spokesman referred us to Blatter's victory statement outlining his plans for radical change to improve best practice, including transparency.

'If Fifa talk about transparency, let's open this week's transcripts of the discussions between Fifa officials and the CFA,' Simons said. 'This sort of transparency should not be too hard to offer Chinese football fans.'

Not all in Fifa's closed club are tainted with accusations of sleaze, the Scottish FA's Broadfoot rightly pointed out.

'The organisation has spent US$794m helping developing countries promote football. It puts a lot of money into the game,' said Britain's new Fifa vice-president, Jim Boyce.

Still, with so many questions left unanswered in both Beijing and Switzerland this week, the mercury will not be dropping any time soon.