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The former chairman of the Chinese Football Association has been sentenced to life in prison for accepting bribes worth US$11 million, as part of a crackdown on official graft in China’s sports industry. About 10 senior leaders and executives of the CFA, including former national team coach Li Tie, have been caught up in the corruption probe. Former chairman Chen Xuyuan was found to have illegally accepted large sums of money, causing serious consequences for the national football industry. President Xi Jinping, a football enthusiast, has expressed his dream of China hosting and winning the World Cup, but that ambition seems farther away with the corruption scandal and poor results on the field.

Chen Xuyuan held various positions in football before becoming CFA chairman in 2019. In a televised documentary, he confessed to accepting money from those seeking favor, acknowledging the public’s disdain for corruption in the sport. Rulings in other major graft cases were expected to be announced, potentially including the fate of former national team coach Li Tie, who admitted arranging bribes to secure his position and fixing matches in the past. Other officials in Chinese football, such as former CFA official Chen Yongliang and former Chinese Super League general manager Dong Zheng, received lengthy prison sentences for their involvement in bribery schemes.

The case of South Korean international footballer Son Jun-ho also shook the Chinese football world, as he was detained by Chinese authorities on suspicion of accepting bribes last May. Son, who played for Shandong Taishan in the Chinese Super League and represented South Korea in the 2022 World Cup, has since been released and returned home. His international teammate Lee Jae-sung expressed gratitude for Son’s release, stating that his detention had broken his heart. The corruption scandals in Chinese football have had far-reaching consequences, tarnishing the reputation of the sport and prompting calls for greater transparency and accountability.

While President Xi Jinping has been a driving force behind the crackdown on corruption in Chinese sports, including football, the ongoing scandals have highlighted deep-seated issues within the industry. The desire to host and win the World Cup remains a lofty goal for China, but achieving that dream will require significant reforms and a commitment to integrity in the sport. As more officials are brought to justice for their involvement in bribery and match-fixing, the hope is that the Chinese football industry can start to rebuild its reputation and focus on promoting fair competition and development at all levels. Only time will tell if these efforts will lead to a brighter future for football in China.

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