Authorities Investigating President of Chinese Soccer’s Top Governing Body

Another investigation rocks Chinese soccer as authorities scrutinize Chinese Football Association boss Chen Xuyuan for suspected corruption. It is the fourth investigation announced against a top soccer figure in China in as many months

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9:01 AM HKT, Thu February 16, 2023 2 mins read

On February 14, Chinese authorities announced that Chen Xuyuan, the current president of the troubled Chinese Football Association (CFA), is under investigation for “serious violations of discipline and the law.” He is the fourth top soccer figure to be placed under investigation since last November.

chen xuyuan president of chinese soccer association

Chen Xuyuan, president of the Chinese Football Association

The investigation is being conducted by the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, the country’s top anti-corruption watchdog, along with the Hubei Provincial Commission for Discipline Inspection.

Although the General Administration of Sports did not disclose the allegations against Chen, theorized that he is under investigation over suspicions of corruption and that the Hubei provincial commission is involved because the alleged crimes were committed or first discovered in the province.

There has been no official word on whether Chen has been arrested, but he reportedly missed a national soccer team selection meeting held on February 13 and 14.

An “Unconventional” CFA President

In 2019, Chen was unanimously elected to become CFA president, becoming the first-ever person from outside the sports management field to hold the position.

He began his career as a dock worker in Shanghai at the age of 17, eventually working his way up to president of Shanghai International Port Group over the course of 46 years before leaving for the CFA.

According to a Chinese media outlet, “The ‘unconventional’ president Chen Xuyuan once carried high expectations… Many people hoped he could better steer the ship of Chinese soccer, which has lost its way, and bring it somewhere different.”

Chen’s speeches reflected the purported changes he planned to instate. Shortly before being elected, he said in a speech, “Soccer is a noble game. Don’t let money tarnish and distort it.”

Four High-Level Investigations

li tie, liu yi, chen yongliang, and chen yuxuan

From left to right: Li Tie, Liu Yi, Chen Yongliang, and Chen Yuxuan

Authorities have linked Chen’s investigation to former Team China head coach Li Tie, who was arrested last November.

The CFA’s executive deputy secretary-general Chen Yongliang and former secretary-general Liu Yi were also placed under investigation in January for the same suspected crimes.

The fact that Chen is also being investigated for corruption has led netizens — and government publication People’s Daily — to compare the saga to The Knockout (狂飙), a popular crime-fighting show that recently finished airing.

a the knockout drama style poster about soccer corruption

A poster in the style of The Knockout depicting the four accused officials

Interestingly, last Thursday, Chen Xuyuan himself spoke out against corruption at the CFA. He said, “I have always believed that fighting corruption in soccer is a good thing… [Some people] have ignored the interests of the CFA for the sake of their own personal interests. If every comrade in our association were honest and clean, we would not be having this meeting today.”

A Long History of Corruption

The CFA has long been plagued by corruption. From 2009 to 2013, when China conducted its large-scale anti-corruption campaign in the nation’s soccer system, more than 50 officials and players were arrested for betting, fixing matches, and bribery.

And despite lavish funding, the sport has suffered from a lack of venues and facilities in the country, primarily due to mismanagement.

The CFA’s problems also trickle down to the Chinese Super League (CSL), the top tier of professional soccer in China. Since the CSL was set up in 2004, viewership of games has fluctuated sporadically whenever new bribery and match-fixing scandals come to light.

The chronic underperformance of China’s men’s national team is evidence of the deep rot of the CFA. China has only made it to the World Cup once in the tournament’s history, in 2002, and the men’s team is currently ranked 79th worldwide.

All images via Weibo

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