In a bid to crack down on malpractices in Chinese soccer and restore order in the game, the Chinese Football Association meted out a series of penalties to 12 clubs and 33 individuals on Monday. The move should sound the alarm to those who resort to irregularities for personal gain and encourage footballers to concentrate on winning matches through fair means rather than foul.
Shanghai Shenhua was stripped of the 2003 league title, fined 1 million yuan ($160,000) and deducted six points for next season, while 33 people were banned for life from soccer-related activities. The Shanghai club was found guilty of fixing a game against Shanxi Guoli en route to winning the 2003 league title.
The move drew diverse responses from the public, with many believing the punishments to be too lenient to produce the desired effect. In reply, the CFA explained that it has to maintain the normal order of the game and ensure that the league can continue.
Given that more than a dozen clubs and almost 100 individuals have been involved since the CFA launched a sweeping campaign to crack down on corruption and gambling in the domestic game three years ago, the CFA's concern is reasonable as harsher and wider punishments could deal a deadly blow to the game. This would in turn end the public's hopes for a revival of Chinese soccer.
However, there is no reason for the country's soccer regulator to relent in its efforts to set up long-term and effective supervision so that matches can be played in an orderly and clean manner.
Admittedly, fraud and corruption have blighted Chinese soccer and brought more disappointment than joy to fans in recent years. Irregularities, such as match-fixing and gambling, have disrupted the normal order of the game, while rampant corruption, poor management and lax supervision have eroded the credibility of its regulators.
The sport's woes have naturally drawn wide dissatisfaction from the public and made soccer, a popular game, the Achilles' heel of a country which is a powerhouse in other sports.
In June last year, eight soccer officials and players were sentenced to jail for their involvement in match-fixing and gambling scandals exposed two years ago. Monday's list of punishments marks an end to the three-year drive to clean up Chinese soccer. It should serve as a starting point for regulators and footballers to usher in a healthy environment for all soccer matches.
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