Only surgery can remove tumor from soccer

Updated: 2011-12-31 07:59

By Chen Weihua (China Daily)

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Only surgery can remove tumor from soccer

The trials of some top Chinese soccer officials and referees on corruption charges, which started in Northeast China a week ago and will continue into 2012, have implications far beyond the world of sport.

Just a week into the hearings, we have heard soccer officials, players and fans lamenting that severe punishment, such as relegating some 20 teams involved in bribery, would cripple the sport for at least the next couple of years.

That may be true, for the number of teams, led by the top performers Shandong Luneng and Shanghai Shenhua, which have bribed soccer officials and referees is really big. Relegation would mean the strongest teams being forced to play in the A League instead of the top-tier Super League next year. But such concerns are myopic. If the teams involved in bribery and other scandals are not dealt with seriously, the damage would multiply and last longer than one can imagine.

Any leniency, such as bending rules and laws, will send a wrong signal, prompting many to think that it's OK to fix matches and bribe officials because one can get away by paying just a small fine. Once that happens, we would never be able to cleanse the sport, which would be a tragedy not only for Chinese soccer, but also the nation as a whole.

The trials of the soccer officials and referees reflect our attitude toward corruption, against which people have been complaining the most for at least the past decade.

What Xie Yalong, former vice-president of the Chinese Football Association, has said is both shocking and revealing. Though he admitted receiving 200,000 yuan ($32,000) as bribe from Shandong Luneng and 50,000 yuan from the agent for Ratomir Dujkovic, former head coach of China's Olympic soccer team, Xie insisted that he was not corrupt while talking to China Central Television.

We have heard such shameless statements before. It's not hard to find some people sympathizing with senior government officials who have been imprisoned for taking several millions of yuan in bribe. Somebody could even say: "He was a capable official and imprisoned for taking just a couple of million yuan, while many who have taken ten times more are still at large."

Xie's statement reflects his audacity and crooked bent of mind. Has corruption permeated society to such a level that even a bribe of almost a quarter million yuan seems like a misdemeanor to many people?

For years, the disastrous and humiliating performances of their local and national teams have broken the heart of Chinese soccer fans. And bribery, match-fixing, gambling and other illegal activities have rubbed salt into their wounds.

No wonder, the ongoing trials have drawn the attention of people beyond the sphere of soccer. People want the authorities to implement the rule of law and show a strong resolve to punish the guilty so that justice prevails in the end. They want to know whether our moral standards, eroded by widespread corruption, could still be restored. They are no longer interested in hollow rhetoric; they want action.

Some may argue that it is impossible to revive Chinese soccer's health without rooting out corruption from all other areas of society. There may be some truth in the argument. And that's precisely why, instead of only antibiotics, we need a thorough incisive surgery to rid society of the tumor of corruption.

The trials of the soccer officials and referees and the punishment meted out to the teams involved in bribery scandals could be the first major incision to remove the tumor.

The author, based in New York, is deputy editor of China Daily US edition. Email:

(China Daily 12/31/2011 page5)