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Xinhua Yearender: Anti-corruption drive rocks Chinese sports sector

Wednesday, 31 Dec 2014 11:00   |   By Xinhua

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BEIJING, Dec. 24 (Xinhua) -- A massive anti-corruption drive in China, spearheaded by President Xi Jinping, has rocked the country's sports sector towards the end of 2014.

Days after the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection of the Communist Party of China (CCDI), the country's top corruption watchdog, wrapped up an inspection of the State General Administration of Sport (GASC), some senior officials were reportedly taken out of office last month for "suspected serious discipline violations".

Among them was Yu Li, former director of the State Swimming Administrative Center's synchronized swimming department. According to a China Youth Daily report, Yu had something to do with the controversial officiating at the National Games' synchronized swimming final last year. That event saw the host Liaoning team earn more points than the "virtually better-performing" Sichuan team to win the gold medal, the report said.

Yu responded in a later interview that she didn't think the referees showed partiality in the scoring or that the result was manipulated in favor of the host team.

This was not an isolated incident either. Corruption in Chinese football was so rampant that up to 57 officials, referees and players were tried for taking bribes or involvement in match-fixing in 2012, after a nationwide crackdown led by the public security department.

Among those banned for life are the former FIFA World Cup referee Lu Jun, four former national team players, and the former Chinese Football Association (CFA) leaders Nan Yong and Xie Yalong, who were both sentenced to over a decade in jail last year for accepting bribes. Nan once said players could pay about 100,000 yuan (about 16,129 US dollars) for a spot on the national team.

A CCDI commentary criticized the Chinese soccer governing body for malpractice for a series of official corruption and game-manipulating scandals. "The scandals have tarnished the international image of Chinese soccer and impeded its improvement," the CCDI said.

In addition, a number of malpractice cases and violations caused by the GASC's centralized bureaucracy were discovered during the inspection, according to the CCDI report published on its website.

"Some of the processes of sporting event bidding and approval, athlete recruitment and referee appointments were not conducted under open and transparent supervision. Violation of the fair-play principle, such as match-fixing and cheating, remains severe. The GASC-affiliated administrative centers have too much centralized power," the report said.

According to sports insiders, it is government interference that has created the space for corruption and match fixing to exist.

"Sport is government-owned and government-controlled," said Shu Wen, a renowned sports editor. "People don't have the same personal responsibility for sport. They don't think sport is theirs. Football is not the people's game; it's the government's game."

Chinese sports officials had more influence than their counterparts overseas through the top-down management system, which had its roots in the planned-economy era, and which allowed them to screen and train medalists for international competitions.

Yan Jirong, a professor of political science at Peking University's School of Government, said the investigation shows that the country's anti-graft campaign has set its sights on the sports field, which used to occupy a minor spot on the top anti-graft radar.

"The sports sector receives huge government funding and resources every year but lacks enough anti-corruption supervision compared with other fields. The water is deep, and it's time for intense scrutiny for potential disciplinary violations," said Yan.

Others who analyze the role of the Chinese government in sport say that measures are needed to regulate sports-related business activities and punish illegal practices with severity and transparency.

"The government really needs to loosen its grip," said Bao Mingxiao, top scholar of the sports academy affiliated to the GASC.

"They should focus on policy and not the day-to-day running of sports, especially when commercial elements are involved. This is where money comes in and the temptation is too great for these bureaucrats. They need to let market forces have more of an impact on leadership, owners, coaches and players."

Liu Peng, Minister of the GASC, said the CCDI's "thorough health check" of his agency had taught its officials a "deep lesson". He said they would follow the inspector's advice on addressing corruption.

Original title by Xinhua: Yearender: Anti-corruption drive rocks Chinese sports sector

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