Matchfixing just a symptom of China ills

SHANGHAI - China's matchfixing scandal is a symptom of the problems that bedevil football in the country and urgent restructuring of the game is needed to prevent its recurrence, according to Shanghai Shenhua owner Zhu Jin.

Chinese football sunk to new depths this year with the arrest of the head of the Chinese Football Association (CFA) Nan Yong and more than 20 other officials on match-fixing charges.

Zhu believes installing new officials at the CFA will not be enough to save the game if the question of who controls the top flight Chinese Super League (CSL) is not resolved.

"The scandal has just revealed the reasons why we previously have made little or no progress. We must be more concerned about how we move forward," he told Reuters in an interview.

"The matchfixing has showed us we cannot blindly approve of the way things have been done in the past. We have to move as quickly as possible to work out a way to selectively restructure it, to improve Chinese football," he added.

"Otherwise, even if you chop off the left hand, the right hand is still dirty."

An internet entrepreneur in his early 40s and educated in the U.S., Zhu is a new breed of club owner in a CSL largely made up of teams controlled by state-owned enterprises.

"Who should control the CSL, a board of stakeholders or the CFA?" he asked. "Will the CSL be fair in the future? Is it really a professional league with clear goals, clear responsibilities and so on?"

Zhu firmly believes that the CFA should not use the CSL to pursue profit but concentrate on properly enforcing the existing rules, both on and off the pitch, and leave the team owners to run the league.

"If the fairness of the CSL is in doubt, credibility fails," he said.


Chinese football has long been a byword for corruption off the pitch and national shame on it, with clubs failing to make an impression in Asian competition and the national team unable to qualify for the last two World Cups.

Lifting the "shadow" over the game, which has deepened with the matchfixing scandal, will take more than determination on the part of well-meaning officials.

"Personnel changes do not guarantee success or failure," Zhu added. "Is there a concrete plan, what is the plan, can it work? can it really improve Chinese football?

"If not, the (current) efforts will not only be completely wasted, but after five or ten years, another crackdown on matchfixing will again catch as many guilty people as this time."

Zhu, CEO of the NASDAQ-listed The9 online gaming company, once named himself as a substitute and played a few minutes against Liverpool in a pre-season friendly.

His frustration at the state of football can only have been exacerbated by the fact that his club have finished CSL runners-up three times but never won it.

He clearly has a great passion for the game and believes a healthy and clean domestic professional game will also help improve China's national team.

"Matchfixing kills real competition," he said. "The Chinese national team did so terribly in international games because they had little real competition in the domestic league.

"Their capability dropped. So match-fixing has undermines the very roots of Chinese football."