Former China football coach Li Tie says paid bribes for job in TV confession

By AFP   January 10, 2024 | 09:52 pm PT
Former China football coach Li Tie says paid bribes for job in TV confession
Li Tie as the head coach of China national football team in 2022. Photo by the Asian Football Confederation
The former Chinese national football team coach has made a televised confession in which he admitted to paying hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes to secure the top job, as well as involvement in match-fixing.

Chinese football has been in the grip of a major anti-corruption campaign that has seen numerous leading figures investigated or charged.

Li Tie, a former Everton midfielder who served as the national team's head coach, was placed under investigation in 2022, accused by authorities of "serious violations of the law."

No detailed information on the case has been available until his confession on Tuesday (Jan. 9) night, part of an anti-graft documentary aired on state broadcaster CCTV.

CCTV regularly airs confessions by criminal suspects, including former officials, before they appear in court - a practice widely condemned by rights groups.

In the programme, Li said he had arranged nearly US$421,000 in bribes to secure the head coach position - and to have helped fix matches when he was a club coach.

"I'm very sorry. I should have kept my head to the ground and followed the right path," the 46-year-old said.

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

Paying for the job

When he took the national coach job in January 2020, Li declared he had achieved one of his "biggest dreams."

But Tuesday's documentary painted a less wholesome picture.

It said Li had asked Wuhan Zall Football Club - where he then worked as coach - to intervene on his behalf with the Chinese Football Association (CFA), promising to return the favor.

The club paid two million yuan ($281,000) in bribes to Chen Xuyuan, then president of the CFA and now also subject to a corruption investigation.

Li also said he gave one million yuan from his own pocket to the secretary-general of the CFA.

Following his appointment, four Wuhan Zall footballers were appointed to the national team - players who were not qualified to play "at that level," according to the club president, who was interviewed in the documentary.

China eventually failed to qualify for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, leading to Li quitting in 2021.

The national anti-corruption agency launched an investigation into him at the end of 2022.

Around 10 senior leaders and executives of the CFA have also been brought down since, including former president Chen.

Chen was indicted in September for corruption, confessing in the TV documentary to having accepted large sums from those wishing to get in his good graces.

Chinese leader Xi Jinping has described himself as a football fan and said he dreams of China hosting and winning a World Cup one day.

But ambitions of developing the men's team into an international powerhouse have not come to fruition.

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