Chinese football officials forced to make public corruption confessions ahead of Asian Cup

Li Tie, the head coach of the China national football team, watches the pre match warm up during the 2022 FIFA World Cup Asian Qualifiers  (Getty Images)
Li Tie, the head coach of the China national football team, watches the pre match warm up during the 2022 FIFA World Cup Asian Qualifiers (Getty Images)

The Chinese state TV on Tuesday aired interviews of former football officials confessing to bribe-taking that allegedly resulted in the poor performance of the team in international tournaments.

Li Tie, the former Everton midfielder and ex-coach of the national team, confessed to his involvement in bribes and match-fixing in an anti-graft documentary aired by CCTV on Tuesday.

He was placed under investigation in 2022 for "serious violations of the law" but so far no detailed information on the case has been revealed to the public.

The Xi Jinping administration has launched a major anti-corruption crackdown on Chinese football that has seen more than a dozen officials of the Chinese Football Association investigated or charged.

The confessions were aired just days before the Asian Cup tournament following a years-long investigation into the underperformance of the men's team, which was defeated by countries like Vietnam and Syria.

China also failed to qualify for the World Cup in Qatar, which led to Mr Li quitting in 2021.

The former Chinese skipper said he had arranged nearly $421,000 (£330,954) in bribes to bag the position of the head coach and secure the head coach position and took part in fixing matches during his tenure as the club coach.

"I'm very sorry. I should have kept my head to the ground and followed the right path," he said. "There were certain things that at the time were common practices in football."

The Xi administration has been accused of routinely coercing "confession videos" out of prisoners to intimidate others – a move condemned by rights activists.

Mr Li said after successfully rigging a match at Hebei China Fortune he continued to promote match-fixing after becoming the head coach of Wuhan Zall Football Club in 2017.

"By gaining 'success' through such improper means, it actually made me more and more impatient and eager for quick results.

"In order to achieve good performance, I resorted to influencing referees, bribing opposing players and coaches, sometimes through clubs dealing with other clubs. This behavior becomes a habit, and eventually, there is even a slight dependence on these practices," he said, expressing regret.

Mr Li claimed he paid one million yuan from his pocket to the secretary-general of the Chinese Football Association (CFA).

Former CFA chair Chen Xuyuan in his confession said he received two backpacks containing $42,000 (£33,016) each from local officials just the night before he was named the chief of the body in 2019. He went on to take tens of millions of yuan from clubs during his tenure.

"They came into my room, casually placed their backpack on my sofa, and said, Congratulations, President Chen. We hope you can take care of us more. When I asked what they were offering, they responded it is just a tradition and they all do it this way," Mr Chen said in the video according to China Daily.

"Soccer fans can tolerate the backwardness of Chinese soccer, but not corruption,” Mr Chen said, who has been charged for bribery. “There’s no remedy for bygones. If there’s one, I’m willing to pay for that with my life."

Du Zhaocai, the former deputy director of the General Administration of Sports of China, said:" I didn’t play a good role as goalkeeper in the corruption fight of Chinese soccer." He was arrested in October on suspicion of taking bribes and eventually stripped off his party membership.

“Developing and revitalizing Chinese football is an inevitable requirement for building a sports superpower, and it is also the expectation of the broad masses of the people,” the documentary said.

The Chinese president, a self-proclaimed football fan, said he dreams of China hosting and winning the World Cup.