China football coach gets life for bribery, match-fixing

By Hoang An   February 24, 2024 | 12:10 am PT
China football coach gets life for bribery, match-fixing
A screenshot of Li Tie in a documentary feature broadcasted on Jan. 10, 2024
Li Tie, who coached the Chinese national football team from 2019-2021, has been sentenced to life in prison following his conviction on bribery and match-fixing charges.

According to Epoch Times, in addition to Li's life sentence, Chen Xuyuan, chairman of the Chinese Football Association (CFA), also received 15 years in prison.

Du Zhaocai, former CFA general secretary, was sentenced to 13 years in prison.

Li believed that his sentence was too heavy compared to the two officials, so he requested an appeal.

In an anti-corruption video broadcast on television in early January 2024, Li said that to become head coach of the China national team, he lobbied Wuhan Zall FC (now Wugan Yangtze Rive) to bribe CFA president Chen for CNY2 million (around US$278,000), as well as give CNY1 million yuan in bribes to CFA general secretary Du.

After Li became head coach of the Chinese national team at the end of 2019, Wuhan Zall then paid him CNY60 million in a contract that bound him to pick four players from the club for the national team.

The video also revealed that after Chen became CFA president in 2019, two local football officials sent him CNY300,000 to "pay their respects." During his term as chairman, Chen also received tens of millions of yuan from domestic clubs.

On Jan. 29, Chen's trial took place on charges of accepting a total of CNY81.03 million yuan. Three days earlier, Du was also prosecuted for illegally receiving a huge amount of money from others.

Li, 47, played as a defensive midfielder for Premier League club Everton in 34 matches from 2002-2004. He is one of six Chinese players who have played in the Premier League. After retiring in 2012, Li worked as an assistant for legendary Italian coach Marcello Lippi at Guangzhou Evergrande.

After gaining experience as an assistant on the team, Li became the head coach of Hebei China Fortune in 2015. The club’s executives wanted Li to take advantage of his relationships with the players to fix the matches.

"When I was a player, I really hated match-fixing," Li said in the video. "But I accepted this offer because I thought it would help the team get promoted to the higher league. In my first time as head coach of a club, I also really wanted to prove my ability."

Li added that to achieve good results, he influenced referees, players and coaches of the opposite teams.

"That behavior gradually became a habit for me," said the former Everton midfielder.

When he coached Wuhan in 2017, Li continued to promote bribery. In a match between Wuhan and Hebei in the Chinese second division in 2018, Li took advantage of his relationship with players at Hebei to fix the match. He received money from Wuhan, gave it to a Hebei player and told him to share the money with the club's key players, and in return, they would lose the match. This player didn’t share the money with anyone, but Hebei still lost in the end, in Li's favor.

Li eventually helped Wuhan get promoted to the Chinese Super League, then replaced Lippi as national team head coach. The day he was appointed by CFA was when he also signed the contract with Wuhan for CNY60 million, as a form of bribery to call up Wuhan players to the national team and increase their value. However, he only coached China for 12 matches with a win rate of 50%. After China failed to attend the 2022 World Cup, Li had to resign.

Following Chinese President and General Secretary Xi Jinping's order, the government launched a corruption investigation at CFA in 2022. Li has been in prison since November 2022 to serve the investigation, a few months after he resigned. Since then, 10 senior CFA officials have been arrested, including Chen.

Li is said to have changed his testimony many times since his arrest and investigators had to find more evidence. Therefore, the sentences for Chen and Du may still change at the appeal hearing.

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