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Chinese court hands former FA boss life sentence

March 26, 2024

A Chinese court has sentenced the country's former Football Association boss to life in prison after convicting him on corruption charges. This came amid a crackdown on sports corruption by the Beijing authorities.

China Chen Xuyuan holding up a fist in front of onlooking coaches
Chen Xuyuan (seen here in 2020 during a visit to the national team) has been jailed for lifeImage: Zhou Junxiang/HPIC/picture alliance/dpa

Chinese state media reported on Tuesday that a court in the central Chinese province of Hubei handed former Chinese Football Association (CFA) President Chen Xuyuan a life sentence after having found him guilty of helping fix matches and using his various positions to commit financial crimes. The court found that between 2010 and 2023 Chen had accepted bribes and valuables worth more than 81 million yuan (€10.3 million, $11.2 million).

The official Xinhua news agency reported that all of Chen's personal property would be confiscated, and his illegal gains would be recovered and submitted to China's state treasury.

Other high-ranking sports officials received prison sentences for accepting bribes. Among these were the former head of the National Athletics Association, Hong Chen, who was sentenced to 13 years; former high-ranking football official Chen Yongliang, who got 14 years; and Dong Zheng, the former CEO of the Chinese Football Association Super League Company, who was given an eight-year sentence.

'Confession' in TV documentary

Chen had "caused enormous damage to soccer in China", the court stated.

In February 2023, it became known that a disciplinary commission was investigating the then-president of the FA. Chen was charged in last September. In January, Chinese television broadcast a documentary in which Chen made an alleged confession.

Anti-corruption campaign

Corruption proceedings are also underway against former men's national team coach Li Tie. In the TV documentary in January, Li admitted to having paid the equivalent of around €400,000 euros in bribes to secure the position of national team coach. Li said he had also helped to manipulate matches as a club coach.

Human rights organizations have long accused the Chinese government of forcing alleged confessions of corruption ― sometimes through torture.

President Xi Jinping's anti-corruption campaign also affected Chinese football more than a decade ago: in 2012, two former CFA chairmen, Xie Yalong and Nan Yong, were each sentenced to 10 and a half years in prison.

Far from world class

In 2015 President Xi approved a policy aimed at making football a national sporting priority, with the long-term goal of elevating it to a world class level. Just under a decade later, that goal seems as far off as ever. The hype surrounding the Chinese Super League, which was once signing superstars to exorbitant contracts, has fizzled out.

The only time the men's national team have managed to qualify for the World Cup was long before Xi declared football a priority ― in 2002 in Japan and South Korea. China failed to advance from the group stage, failing to earn a point or even score a goal.

pfd/km (AP, Reuters, dpa, SID)