BEIJING—China’s scandal-plagued football association has been rocked by new corruption probes into its chiefs of discipline and competition.
The sports ministry on Friday said Wang Xiaoping, director the China Football Association’s (CFA) Disciplinary Committee, and Huang Song, were both “suspected of serious violations” of law and discipline—the government’s usual bywords for graft.
Huang was being investigated by the ruling Communist Party’s corruption watchdog, the sports ministry’s anti-graft body and by authorities in Hebei province outside Beijing where the national soccer team maintains a training camp, the notice said.
The single-sentence announcements said Wang and Huang were cooperating with investigators but gave no details about the charges against them. Chinese prosecutors have wide powers to hold suspects for lengthy interrogations if state secrets are believed to be involved.
The announcements come barely a month after the head of China’s national soccer body Chen Xuyuan was arrested on corruption charges.
Chen was head of the Chinese Football Association and vice chair of its party committee, underscoring the government’s heavy hand in attempting to direct success in the game.
China’s increasingly autocratic president and Communist Party leader Xi Jinping declared a plan to make China a football superpower, but funding and enthusiasm have appeared to dwindle. Xi has also made fighting corruption a signature policy, taking down political rivals in the process and further embedding strict policies governing freedom of speech and civil society organizations outside party control.
Sports falls under the same yoke of state control and the national team has seen a revolving door of foreign and domestic managers cut loose for their failure to produce results.
One of China’s most decorated past football leaders, former Everton and Sheffield United midfielder Li Tie, has been jailed amid a graft investigation.
Despite its success in Olympic sports such as table tennis and shooting, China has only qualified for one soccer World Cup, more than two decades ago. The men’s national team is currently ranked 80th by FIFA, just behind countries such as Uzbekistan, Georgia and Gabon.
China’s top division clubs once paid big salaries to attract foreign talent, but the league has virtually collapsed under the now-abandoned “zero-Covid” policy and lingering economic malaise. Top sponsors have gone bankrupt and and efforts to fight match-fixing and other forms of cheating have received little attention of late. AP