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Former head of China Football Association (CFA) sentenced to life in prison

Former President of the Chinese Football Association (CFA), Chen Xuyuan, has been sentenced to life imprisonment for bribery.

This verdict, delivered by the country’s state media, marks a significant chapter in China’s ongoing battle against corruption, especially within its sporting realm.

Chen Xuyuan’s downfall began to unfold in January when he admitted to accepting bribes amounting to a staggering 81 million yuan ($11.2 million).

The trial, held at the Intermediate People’s Court of Huangshi in central China, exposed Chen’s illicit dealings spanning from 2010 to 2023.

These activities, which extended to his tenure as the president and chairman of the Shanghai International Port Group, involved the acceptance of monetary rewards and valuables in exchange for influencing project contracts and organizing sporting events.

The court’s ruling emphasized the “tremendous damage” inflicted upon China’s football development by Chen’s actions, as reported by the state-controlled Xinhua news agency.

Additionally, three other senior football officials received sentences ranging from eight to 14 years for their involvement in corrupt practices.

This incident is not an isolated one in China’s football landscape. Over the years, an anti-corruption campaign spearheaded by President Xi Jinping has targeted various sectors, including sports, banking, and the military.

Within football specifically, numerous coaches and players have faced investigations, reflecting the pervasive nature of corruption within the sport.

Earlier this year, revelations surfaced regarding match-fixing and bribery in relation to the appointment of coaching positions within China’s national men’s soccer team.

Li Tie, a former Everton midfielder and head coach of the team, confessed to engaging in such practices, implicating figures like Chen Xuyuan in the process.

Furthermore, the detention of South Korean footballer Son Jun-ho in a bribery case further underscores the extent of corruption within Chinese football.

President Xi Jinping has long expressed his desire to elevate China’s status into a footballing powerhouse.

His aspirations, articulated through his ‘three wishes’ for Chinese football – qualifying for the World Cup, hosting the tournament, and ultimately winning it – have underpinned national initiatives to develop the sport.

Despite significant investments, including the recruitment of high-profile international players, Chinese football has faced setbacks.

The influx of foreign talent into the Chinese Super League led to financial imbalances and mounting debts among clubs.

In response, the CFA implemented a salary cap in 2020, redirecting focus towards nurturing homegrown talent. Consequently, the league witnessed a decline in the number of foreign players.