|Interest in Chinese football has slumped over the years, not helped by the national team failing to qualify for the 2012 World Cup [GALLO/GETTY]
The former deputy head of China's football association was sentenced on Saturday to 10½ years in prison as part of a crackdown on corruption and match-fixing, the official Xinhua News Agency reported.
Yang Yimin, convicted of taking $200,000 in bribes, was one of 39 people sentenced in a single session by the court in the north-eastern city of Tieling, Xinhua said.
They included former head of the referees' committee, Zhang Jianqiang, who received a 12-year sentence for taking bribes totalling $433,000, and the former presidents or head coaches of five clubs in the Chinese league.
The club officials received sentences of up to eight years for bribery, gambling, and other offences related to fixing matches.
Others were given sentences of up to 5½ years for crimes including giving and taking bribes, embezzlement, holding people against their will, and disrupting public services.
The club Qingdao Hailifeng was fined $318,000 for bribery, while Chengdu Blades - a team owned by English League One side Sheffield United - was fined $9,525 on the same charge.
On Thursday, the same court sentenced referee Lu Jun, who officiated two games at the 2002 World Cup in South Korea and Japan, to 5-½ years in jail for taking about nearly $130,000 to fix seven league matches.
Three other referees and five company and football association officials were fined or sentenced to up to seven years for match fixing.
China launched the current crackdown on match-fixing in 2009, hoping to root out gambling, bribery, and other forms of corruption that are blamed for sapping the competitiveness of Chinese football.
However, the league's problems date back at least until 2001, when allegations of match throwing and bribery of referees first emerged.
Meanwhile, China's performance in international competition slumped as football's popularity among fans lost ground in favour of basketball and young players turned away from the sport in droves.
China were knocked out of 2010 World Cup qualifying last year, failing to make the top 10 sides in Asia. In their only World Cup appearance, in 2002, China lost all three games while failing to score a single goal.