When Chinese Super League club Tianjin Tianhai surprisingly thrashed Rafael Benitez’s Dalian Yifang 5-1 to stay in the league in November last year, disgruntled fans were quick to allege corruption — the legacy of a murky past that exploded into scandal 10 years ago.
Benitez, who led Liverpool to the 2005 UEFA Champions League title, was perplexed by one of the heaviest defeats of his coaching career, saying: “This is a game that I don’t quite understand.”
Despite fan complaints to the Chinese Football Association (CFA), no case was brought and there is no evidence of wrongdoing.
However, the haste with which some supporters claimed match-fixing is proof that deep scars remain, a decade after a major crackdown on graft that ensnared a string of leading figures in Chinese soccer.
Allegations of organized gambling, crooked referees and match-fixing dogged the sport in China for years, and coupled with the national side’s poor performances, fans were disillusioned, attendance suffered and sponsors fled.
It was in this climate in January 2010 that CFA first vice-president Nan Yong and two other senior CFA figures were hauled in by police on allegations of bribe-taking and match-fixing.
When police raided a Beijing villa belonging to Nan, they discovered gold, diamonds and watches that he confessed came from clubs and referees.
In a widening corruption investigation, scores of CFA officials, club executives, referees, players and agents were questioned in the following months.
“It is an open secret that the chaos in Chinese soccer is not a matter of [only] one rotten egg spoiling the whole pudding,” the China Daily said in January 2010, urging an overhaul.
CFA officials routinely fixed matches, including national team and league games, by buying off players or referees, state media alleged.
Some CFA officials also reportedly accepted payoffs from players desperate to be on the national team — a practice that was also widespread at the club level.
In February 2010, the Guangzhou Pharmaceuticals — who would later be rebranded as Guangzhou Evergrande, winning eight league titles and two Asian crowns — and the Chengdu Blades were relegated for paying bribes.
Referees also began disappearing into police custody. Among them was Lu Jun, who officiated at the 2002 World Cup and the Olympics, earning the nickname “Golden Whistle.”
Wei Di, who replaced the sacked Nan at the top of the CFA, threatened to cancel the 2010 season, saying: “Our goal is to clean up Chinese soccer. We cannot allow this cancer to remain in the body.”
In autumn 2010, the dragnet widened and investigations were launched into Nan’s predecessor, Xie Yalong.
Xie later told a court that police tortured him with electric shocks, beat him and doused him with water during interrogations, although they denied the claims.
Next came the detention of former Shanghai Shenhua general manager Lou Shifang, who won the league title in 2003.
The Shanghai Shenhua were subsequently stripped of the crown.
The 2010 season did take place, but toward the end — to prevent referees and players from fixing the outcomes of matches — halftime was extended from 15 to 30 minutes so that all second halves would kick off at the same time.
FIFA was unimpressed by the arrangement.
“This kind of behavior amounts to amending soccer match rules and is obviously a violation of the rules,” it said.
In the following years, a string of high-profile Chinese soccer figures were locked up.
By February 2013, 33 people had been banned from Chinese soccer for life, 25 were handed five-year bans, and at least 12 clubs were punished — some were dissolved.
Chinese soccer has since risen in stature at the club level, with large-scale investment by Chinese firms and tycoons attracting a flood of players and coaches from overseas.
Chen Jifang hits the gym for at least two hours every day and has the physique to prove it. At nearly 70, she is being held up as a shining example as China orders its vast population to get fit and lose the bulge. The grandmother from Shanghai has become a minor celebrity in in the past few months after her newfound and unlikely love for working out made national headlines. After becoming a gym regular in December 2018, Chen lost 14kg in three months, and now sports the kind of flat stomach and toned muscles that people decades younger aspire to. She
’SO CONSISTENT’: The victory gave the world No. 1 and world No. 2 a 21-1 win-loss record and their fourth title of the season after successes in Brisbane, Dubai and Doha Taiwan’s Hsieh Su-wei and Barbora Strycova of the Czech Republic on Sunday cruised to their fourth women’s doubles title of the season at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia in Rome in their first tournament back since the suspension of the WTA Tour due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The top seeds took just 63 minutes to complete a comprehensive 6-2, 6-2 victory over unseeded German-Romanian duo Anna-Lena Friedsam and Raluca Olaru at the Foro Italico. It was the Taiwanese-Czech pairing’s first outing since they won the Qatar Open in February. “After five months, you don’t know what to expect,” Strycova told the WTA Web site.
‘GREAT EVENING‘: In the women’s singles in Rome, Simona Halep and Karolina Pliskova advanced, while Rafael Nadal swept into the quarters in the men’s singles Taiwan’s Hsieh Su-wei and Barbora Strycova of the Czech Republic on Friday had to dig deep to advance to the semi-finals of the women’s doubles at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia in Rome. The top seeds, who did not drop a game in their opening match on the clay courts at the Foro Italico, battled to a 7-6 (7/5), 6-4 victory over sixth seeds Veronika Kudermetova and Katerina Siniakova in 1 hour, 39 minutes. The reigning Wimbledon champions saved nine of 11 break points and converted three of eight, winning 56 percent of points on their second serve and sending down two aces
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