Chinese Super League 2016

Why glamorous big-money signings won’t be enough to fix Chinese football’s corruption problems

Fears remain that the ‘black ball’ could return despite influx of cash into the league

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 08 March, 2016, 2:35pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 08 March, 2016, 3:14pm

With cash flooding in to the Chinese Super League, has the spectre of corruption in the country’s football leagues been laid to rest?

Scores of officials, players, referees have been punished, banned for life or even jailed in recent years as the country tried to clamp down on almost laughable levels of match-fixing and blatant cheating, with even the most die-hard Chinese fan accepting that playing the ‘black ball’ (fixed matches) and other forms of corruption were just a fact of the game.

READ MORE: How China's massive illegal betting industry threatens efforts to make sport key part of economy

After the well-publicised clampdown and punishment by the government – and ongoing moves to decouple mainland football from state control – money has poured in, with the CSL outspending every league in the world this winter.

But former top Interpol cop and Fifa anti-fixing expert Chris Eaton of the International Centre for Sport Security (ICSS) warns that there is a danger that the glossy new sheen provided by glamorous big-name signings will be worthless without fundamental reform underneath.

The Chinese Super League must earn by its integrity commitment and actions, a new respect. Hiring high-profile internationals and improving the glitz of competition is not enough
Chris Eaton

“A highly monied league has one automatic protection – high visibility. But when players’ payments are significantly uneven, and if referees are essentially paid pocket money, major vulnerabilities remain,” he said.

“Equally, some players or referees advancing from a lower league bring with them a compromise and pre-existing criminal relationship. This is another reason why fully transparent integrity testing of all participants in football today is now a basic necessity.

“The Chinese Super League must earn by its integrity commitment and actions, a new respect. Hiring high-profile internationals and improving the glitz of competition is not enough. Look to Italy as the most obvious but not lonely example of this.”

READ MORE: Hong Kong Jockey Club won’t take bets on cash-rich Chinese Super League over corruption fears

The Hong Kong Jockey Club is not taking bets on the CSL this season despite the new interest in the competition, citing concerns over “information transparency, integrity and competitiveness of football matches”. And Eaton suggested they are right to remain patient.

Eaton added: “The ICSS monitors the China leagues [and] we still see suspicious betting on some matches.

“The history of betting-fraud related corruption in football is extensive, as in contrast is also some of the fine anti-corruption work of the authorities.

“However, deeply embedded suspicions need active countering both at the national and international levels. That means more than arrests and prosecutions, but transparent institutional change, with a clear and unambiguous anti-corruption process and culture in sport and in sport betting.”