Ex-China football chief jailed over $10m bribes

A former president of China’s football association has been sentenced to life in prison for accepting more than $10 million in bribes, the country’s state media reported on Tuesday, following one of the biggest anti-corruption probes in the sport in years.

The sentence handed down to Chen Xuyuan came in the wake of probes into more than a dozen high-level football officials since late 2022. Chen had brought “tremendous damage” to Chinese football, the official Xinhua news agency reported, citing a court ruling.

The sport has long grappled with corruption, which fans have blamed for the enduring underperformance of the national team. In 2012, two former chiefs of the same football association were each sentenced to 10-and-a-half years in jail for taking bribes.

Chen, 67, had worked on the docks in Shanghai when he was a youth. He eventually became the head of Shanghai International Port Co in the 2010s, before chairing the Chinese Football Association (CFA) in 2019.

A court in central Hubei province found Chen had taken advantage of his various posts from 2010 to 2023, including those linked to the CFA, to aid others in matters regarding project contracting, investment operations and sports events arrangements, Xinhua reported.

In return, Chen accepted money and valuables worth over 81 million yuan ($11.22m).

In a state TV documentary series on corruption aired in January, Chen confessed to accepting bribes and described one incident the night before he became CFA chairman when he received backpacks containing cash from two local football officials.

Confessions of corruption have become a common feature on national television since President Xi Jinping came to power and unleashed a sweeping anti-graft campaign.

“They came into my room, casually placed their backpacks on my sofa, and said, ‘congratulations, president Chen, we hope you can take care of us more,'” he said.

“When I asked what they were offering, they responded it is just a tradition and they all do it this way.”

On Chen’s sentencing, the People’s Daily, the official paper of the ruling Communist Party, said there was no end point to the fight against corruption.

“The systemic corruption in football is by no means accidental,” the newspaper wrote. “It is imperative to trace back to the source and address the symptoms and root causes.”

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, Dong eight years, and Liu 2 1/2 years, according to state media on Tuesday.

Li Tie, former men’s national team head coach, and Du Zhaocai, former CFA vice chairman, both similarly accused of corruption, have yet to receive their judgements.

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