A popular state television soccer commentator has been found dead in a hotel room in Jinan, Shandong .
The body of Tao Wei, 46, was found on Monday morning after he failed to meet friends for breakfast, Jinan police said on their microblog. They said there was no evidence of homicide and it had been ruled a case of "sudden death".
"We will not give further details of the cause of Tao Wei's death upon his family's request," a police officer said yesterday.
The news of Tao's death initially circulated among his friends and fans on Sina Weibo, the mainland's largest microblogging service, on Monday afternoon.
Because the cause of his death remained unclear, it sparked a wave of rumours. Sceptical fans insisted he was murdered because some of his close friends said the former national youth team player had no history of medical problems and might have been involved in soccer gambling.
Tao was also a celebrity spokesman for a sports lottery company under the National Sports Bureau.
A senior editor with China Central Television's sports channel said Tao looked in good health when they met last month.
"Tao didn't drink much," he said. "We all recognised that his fitness was terrific for his age."
Li Guozheng, a friend of Tao and one of his teammates years ago, said on his microblog that Tao died of a heart attack, and CCTV anchor Duan Xuan concurred.
Police said Tao had a few beers with friends on Sunday night and that his blood alcohol reading was 77 milligrams per 100 millilitres of blood, slightly under the 80mg/100ml legal limit for drivers.
Tao began his professional soccer career with his hometown team, Beijing, and played for China's under-20 team in the 1980s. He retired as a player in 1996 and become a popular soccer commentator at CCTV, where he provided analysis for German Bundesliga games. He also owned a soccer club in Beijing.
While Tao was reportedly born in 1967, Dong Lu, another well-known soccer commentator, said that he was actually born in 1966 but had to change his date of birth to qualify to play for the national youth team.