Former China football chief given life sentence for 'huge' bribery

By AFP   March 25, 2024 | 06:27 pm PT
Former China football chief given life sentence for 'huge' bribery
Chinese players in their 2-2 draw against Singapore in the second qualifying round for the 2026 World Cup on March 21, 2024. Photo by CFP
The former chairman of the Chinese Football Association has been sentenced to life in prison for accepting bribes worth $11 million, state media said Tuesday, part of a crackdown on corruption in the domestic game.

Chen Xuyuan took advantage of his positions at the CFA and other bodies to "illegally accept sums of money from other people totaling 81.03 million yuan ($11 million)", the Communist Party-run People's Daily newspaper said.

The bribes Chen took were "particularly huge" and his actions "seriously damaged fair competition and order", the report said.

He "caused serious consequences for the national football industry", it added.

Chen, who became CFA chairman in 2019 but held other positions in the game prior to that, in January appeared in a televised documentary confessing to having accepted money from those wishing to get in his good books.

"Fans can accept the fact that the state of Chinese football is bad," Chen said in the documentary.

"But they cannot forgive corruption."

Chinese President Xi Jinping is a self-confessed football fanatic who has said he dreams of his country hosting and winning the World Cup one day.

Since rising to power a decade ago, Xi has also waged a sweeping crackdown on official graft that has struck hard at the domestic football industry.

Around 10 senior leaders and executives of the CFA have been brought down in recent years, including Chen.

Verdicts in four more major corruption cases are expected to be announced on Tuesday, state news agency Xinhua reported.

They may include that of former national team coach Li Tie, who was close to Chen.

The former Everton midfielder admitted in the January documentary that he had arranged nearly $421,000 in bribes to secure that position and to have helped fix matches when he was a club coach.

"There were certain things that at the time were common practices in football," he said.

South Korean player released

Another case that sent shockwaves through the Chinese game was that of South Korean international Son Jun-ho, who was detained by Chinese authorities last May.

Beijing said at the time that the World Cup midfielder was detained "on suspicion of accepting bribes by non-state employees", without providing details.

Seoul's foreign ministry said Monday that he had been released and returned home.

Son played for Shandong Taishan in the Chinese Super League since 2021 and also appeared in three of South Korea's four matches during the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.

International teammate Lee Jae-sung told media that he was grateful for Son's release.

"It broke my heart when I first heard about his detention last year," he told a press conference in Bangkok, where South Korea play Thailand later Tuesday in a World Cup qualifier.

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