By Cal Widdall
A number of former football referees and officials, including a FIFA World Cup referee, were convicted of corruption charges in Northeast China yesterday. Nine defendants were given sentences of up to seven years in prison, and other cases are still pending.
‘Golden Whistle’ Lu Jun, who was a referee at the 2002 World Cup and twice named Referee of the Year by the Asian Football Confederation, was sentenced to five and a half years, in addition to having 100,000RMB of personal property confiscated for fixing the result of seven games.
During his trial, it was revealed that Shanghai Shenhua were involved in one of the fixed games (against Sydney FC) and have spent around 500,000RMB to bribe various officials and referees. That’s certainly much cheaper than hiring the services of famous French strikers to help them in the standings.
The longest imprisonment was handed down to Huang Junjie, who was sentenced to a seven year jail term and had 200,000RMB of his personal property confiscated.
Huang Junjie’s case gained international notoriety when he confessed to accepting money in relation to Manchester United’s 6-0 friendly victory over Shenzhen.
There was no suggestion that either team was aware, and rival fans of Manchester United joked that it wasn’t unusual for them to receive help from a referee anyway.
The crackdown on ‘black whistles’ over the past few years has even extended to the arrest of two senior officials within the Chinese Football Association. Their trials have yet to start.
Widespread match fixing in China and beyond
Football match fixing is by no means confined to China (there have been scandals in the high profile leagues of Germany, Italy and Brazil in recent years, not to mention the many misdemeanours of football’s international governing body, FIFA), but the level to which it has infiltrated the game in this country has long been a major concern and, according to many, the reason behind the poor state of the men’s national team.
China have only qualified for one World Cup, in 2002 when they failed to score a single goal, and are currently ranked 76th in the world (below titans such as Haiti and Cape Verde Islands).
However, the crackdown on corruption, along with new investment, has created an atmosphere of optimism in the Chinese game that has been missing since the infamous (and hilarious) ‘Chip shot-gate’ of 2009.
Hopefully Xi Jinping’s wish for China to one day win a World Cup isn’t as ridiculous as this old joke makes it seem.