China’s former football chief sentenced to life in prison over corruption

Chen Xuyuan’s sentencing concludes a wide-ranging anticorruption probe involving top football officials in China.

china football
Chinese football has long grappled with corruption, which fans have blamed for the perpetual underperformance of the national team [File: Thaier Al-Sudani/Reuters]

The former chief of China’s national football association Chen Xuyuan has been sentenced to life in prison for accepting bribes, state media has reported, following one of the biggest anticorruption probes in the sport in years.

A court in central Hubei province found that Chen took advantage of his various posts from 2010 to 2023, including those linked to the Chinese Football Association (CFA), to aid others in matters regarding project contracting, investment operations and sport events arrangements, the official Xinhua news agency reported on Tuesday.

In return, Chen accepted money and valuables worth more than 81 million yuan ($11m).

Chen has brought “tremendous damage” to China’s football cause, Xinhua cited the court ruling as saying.

The severe sentence for Chen, 67, concludes a probe into high-level football officials in China in a sport that has long grappled with corruption, which fans have blamed for the perpetual underperformance of the national team.

In the last episode of a four-part documentary series on corruption aired on national television in January, Chen said the night before he became the chairman of the CFA in 2019 he had received backpacks each containing 300,000 yuan ($41,562) from two local football officials who wanted him to “take care of them”.

Confessions of corruption have become a common feature on national television since President Xi Jinping came to power and unleashed a sweeping anticorruption campaign that has also ensnared football.

Xi is a self-confessed football fanatic who has said he dreams of his country hosting and winning the World Cup.

That ambition appears further away than ever after the corruption probe and years of disappointing results on the pitch.

National skipper Zhang Linpeng last week quit international football over the “disgrace” of a World Cup qualifying draw with Singapore, before reversing his decision.

Other football officials probed for corruption included Chen Yongliang, former CFA executive deputy secretary-general, Liu Lei, a former director at the Wuhan Football Management Centre, Yu Hongchen, a former vice head of the CFA, and Dong Zheng, a former general manager of the Chinese Super League.

Chen has been sentenced to 14 years in prison, Yu 13 years, and Dong eight years, according to state media.

In 2012, former CFA chairman Xie Yalong and his successor Nan Yong were each sentenced to 10 and a half years in jail for accepting bribes in the last big football corruption dragnet in China.

Rulings in other major corruption cases are expected to be announced later, according to state news agency Xinhua.

Another case that sent shockwaves through the Chinese game and beyond was that of South Korean international footballer Son Jun-ho, who was detained by Chinese authorities last May. Son played for Shandong Taishan in the Chinese Super League.

Beijing said at the time that the World Cup midfielder was detained “on suspicion of accepting bribes by non-state employees”, without providing details.

Seoul’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said on Monday that he had been released and returned home.

Source: News Agencies