China's soccer dreams betrayed

PUBLISHED : Friday, 21 June, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 21 June, 2013, 1:44am


Discontent with China's national soccer team has plunged to new lows after it suffered a humiliating home defeat to Thailand in a friendly last weekend. The 1-5 loss to a side ranked 47 places lower by Fifa and comprising youth squad players has been lambasted by commentators and microbloggers. Speculation abounds as to the poor showing, from players colluding with bookmakers to a protest against coach Jose Antonio Camacho. It may be a simple case of an outclassed side, but whatever the reason, it is in the interests of the sport that authorities find the cause of the latest in a string of lacklustre performances.

There is good reason: soccer is recovering from a series of scandals that have harmed its reputation. There is no bigger spectator sport on the mainland, but cases of bribery and fraud have turned away fans in droves. President Xi Jinping , the nation's self-proclaimed biggest fan of the game, has for three years steered a clean-up of the sport that has seen jail terms and fines for guilty officials and players. Unfortunately, on his 60th birthday on Saturday, his dream of China's soccer being revitalised took another hit with the national team's shocking defeat in Hefei , Anhui province.

China excels at all manner of sports, but its soccer team languishes at the lower reaches of Fifa's rankings. Camacho failed to gain the team a berth at next year's World Cup. Corruption is seen as one stumbling block; last year, a former national team captain and at least four players, two one-time heads of the Chinese Football Association and the nation's top referee were jailed for bribery. Another 33 players and officials were banned for life in February after a match-fixing inquiry.

Revelations that bookmakers at the Macau-based online gambling portal Macauslot stopped taking bets on Saturday's match just one minute before Thailand scored its first goal have rightly raised concerns. The excuse of technical problems has to be investigated. If the national team is to progress, it has to first make sure its troubled past is truly behind it.