A few days back, China Central Television reported some of the details in the match fixing scandal involving a number of former top figures in the Chinese Football Association (CFA), the governing body of professional soccer in China, as well as some referees. Facing the camera, one of the suspects, international referee Huang Junjie (黄俊杰), said one thing through flowing tears that was real food for thought. Huang words were: “I’m sorry to all those soccer fans, and I’m sorry to my parents. The only people I didn’t let down is that group of officials in the Chinese Football Association. I didn’t let them down!”
One question I had in watching this story concerned the weak monitoring role the public and the press played on the Chinese Football Association. For at least two decades now there have been regular revelations on CCTV and in various provincial media of problems and corruption in Chinese football, with the finger pointing always to the CFA.
The CFA, which is at the head of the Chinese national football world, has endured wave upon wave of media reporting and public accusation. But where are the results? The rumblings have gone on year in and year out, but nothing whatsoever has changed. Some of our newspapers have in the past faced legal action from the CFA, from some of the well-known referees now in custody, and from football club bosses — and in most cases they have lost in court. Press supervision and the internet seem powerless to do anything about the CFA, which is like the proverbial “dead pig that fears not the scalding water.”
Huang Junjie said that “the only people I didn’t let down is that group of officials in the Chinese Football Association.” So the second question I had was, where exactly did these officials in the CFA come from? How does the CFA get to have officials to begin with? And let’s remember, it’s not just one or two officials we’re talking about who are involved in corruption, but “that group of officials.” Further, why is it that Huang had no fear of letting football fans down — or his own parents, for that matter — but would not dare let down “that group of officials”?
According to the “general rules” of the CFA’s charter, the CFA is a national sports body corporate under law specializing in football [activities]. The CFA is an organizational member of the All-China Sports Federation (ACSF), and is subject to the operational guidance and supervision of both the ACSF and the Ministry of Civil Affairs. The aim of social organizations like the CFA is to shoulder responsibilities for the government and to undertake public service activities. They build wide-ranging relationships with various social sectors, and serve public service and charity functions as well.
It is quite clear, though, that the CFA is not a Party or government organ, but rather a “social organization as legal person” (社会团体法人). That means it has no business being provided with or turning out officials. But when Huang Junjie talks about “that group of officials in the China Football Association,” he is no doubt talking about real officials with real names, with real administrative standing and holding real power. Clearly these officials have violated laws and regulations. How, otherwise, could they have been so unscrupulous in their efforts to rent-seek, cashing in on their positions of power?
Aside from possessing administrative power in violation of the rules, the CFA has further transgressed its role, directly managing subsidiary companies that organize football competitions and engage in other related business. This is a “social organization” outfitted with official posts and at the same time able to conduct business, in the major business market that football is no less. But on the other hand, the CFA enjoys some distance from officialdom, and therefore it is not watched to the same degree by anti-corruption officials. How could such a “social organization” possibly stay clean?
This article originally appeared in Chinese at The Beijing News on April 5, 2011.