China sentences former football association chief to life in prison in latest crackdown on sports corruption

(CNN) — The former head of China’s official football association has been sentenced to life in prison by a court in central Hubei province, in the latest crackdown on the country’s corruption-plagued professional football league.

Former football boss Chen Zuyuan was jailed on Tuesday along with several top sports officials after a months-long investigation, according to state media.

Despite Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s vision of turning the country into a football superpower, the development of top-level professional football has been hampered by poor financial decisions and corruption.

Chen is one of a series of football officials caught in the Communist Party’s ongoing anti-corruption investigation, which also targeted the association’s former vice-president, Yu Hongchen; Former national team coach, Li Tie; Serious efforts.

According to state media, Chen’s assets were also confiscated and he was stripped of political rights for life, a penalty often imposed on disgraced officials.

In sentencing Chen, the Intermediate People’s Court in Huangshi said the defendant took advantage of his position to help companies and individuals he worked with in exchange for monetary rewards, state media reported.

According to the court, he received US$10.6 million (77 million yuan) of the US$11.2 million (81 million yuan) offered to him on 217 occasions between 2010 and 2023, with the court calling the amount “extremely high”.

“Their actions have seriously damaged order and fairness in the ecology of the football field and industry, causing serious harm to the domestic football business,” the court said.

The footage shows Chen bending down from the bench. He said, “I apologize to fans across the country and sincerely apologize in the hope that they will forgive me.”

The court said it showed leniency because Chen “admitted his crime and repented” and cooperated with the investigation. There is a provision for death penalty including corruption in China.

Separately, the Football Association’s former deputy general secretary Chen Yongliang and former vice president Yu were sentenced to 14 and 13 years in prison, respectively. Former Chinese Super League general manager Dong Zheng was sentenced to eight years in prison.

China is one of the world’s great sporting powers, with its athletes regularly dominating major events such as the Olympic Games and Winter Olympics. But it has historically had less success in globally popular team sports such as football, with its men’s teams struggling to compete at a high level.

Xi, an avid football fan, has tried to change that.

In 2011, Xi, then Vice President of China, set his sights on sport’s highest prize and outlined a three-step plan for the men’s national team: qualify for another World Cup, host a World Cup and Winning a World Cup.

Five years later, the Chinese Football Association unveiled a plan to make the country a “global football superpower” by 2050. But an enduring culture of corruption and financial losses linked to the Covid-19 pandemic have combined to hinder those efforts.

The China men’s football team is currently in third place in the FIFA World Cup qualifying group with four points, behind group leader South Korea and second-placed Thailand. Last Thursday, the team played out a 2-2 draw with city-state Singapore, dealing a major blow to China’s 2026 World Cup dreams. The two teams will clash again this Tuesday, which is considered crucial given China’s poor performance.


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