Chinese soccer on messy ground

Updated: 2013-07-12 07:25

By Xin Zhiming (China Daily)

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Perhaps Chinese soccer fans are the most tolerant in the world.

Their joy knows no bounds when the China wins, because victory has always been an elusive luxury for the mediocre national men's team of talented but unprofessional players. And they keep their frustrations in check when China loses and, without complaining much, pin their hopes on the next game.

But even the staid and tolerant fans could not remain silent after China's shameful 1-5 loss to Thailand in a friendly at home last month. Surprisingly, their anger is directed more at what followed the humiliating defeat than the defeat itself.

After deciding to sack chief national coach Jose Antonio Camacho, the Chinese Football Association realized it would have to pay more than 50 million yuan ($8 million) to him as compensation and about 25 million yuan in taxes, according to media reports. Camacho, former Spain and Real Madrid boss, was appointed on an annual pay of $3.5 million two years ago. But China won only seven (and lost 11) of the 20 games it played under him. Besides, the Chinese men's team also failed to qualify for the 2014 World Cup finals. In fact, it was eliminated in Asia's first qualifying round last year.

The CFA has, of course, said the compensation for terminating Camacho's contract will be less than that reported - but it will still be huge. Since the CFA is a de facto government organization run on public funds, people have the right to know exactly how much taxpayers' money will be paid to Camacho and who should be held responsible for squandering public money.

But more than that, it is time the authorities thoroughly reviewed the country's inefficient soccer management regime and found ways to make it more accountable.

Moreover, this is not the first time the CFA will have to pay a high price for signing "unfavourable" contracts with foreign soccer coaches. Jan Olde Riekerink, of the Netherlands, who was fired as coach of the national youth team in November, will continue to receive his salary from the CFA until the end of 2016, when his contract was scheduled to end, according to media reports.

Who is responsible for such a fiasco?

The 25 million yuan the CFA will pay as tax on Camacho's compensation will come from taxpayers' money, and someone in the association must be held accountable for this. It is likely, however, that no official from the CFA or the State General Administration of Sports, which directly governs the association, will be punished for the waste of public money.

If the authorities allow things to remain the same, the CFA will continue to be embroiled in controversies and to waste more taxpayers' money. Unfortunately, even if the CFA management is reshuffled, there is no guarantee that similar fiascos will not happen because the association is too bureaucratic to function professionally.

To meet the public demand, the government as a whole has been improving its transparency and operational efficiency. So why should the CFA, as a de facto government agency, not do so?

The mixed identity of the CFA - as a semi-governmental as well as industrial body - however, has been preventing it from becoming more transparent and efficient.

In many countries, especially leading soccer powers, soccer associations function more like non-governmental organizations, supervising leagues and other tournaments at various levels. They are free of government intervention and, in return, do not use public funds. In contrast, the CFA is run on public funds and its ill-advised decisions could result in a waste of taxpayers' money.

No one seems to be sure when and how the CFA will undergo reforms. But the authorities could start the process by making it accountable to the people and prevent it from wasting more taxpayers' money.

The author is a writer with China Daily.

E-mail: xinzhiming@chinadaily.com.cn.

(China Daily 07/12/2013 page9)

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