English football fans are familiar with the expression that the referee is ‘bent’. It’s normally a throwaway line, mind you, intended less to impugn the referee’s integrity and more to castigate a decision that fans don’t agree with.
But in China referees really are bent, it seems, in the sense of morally crooked and corrupt.
Last week a court in the northern city of Dandong found four top referees guilty of taking bribes and fixing matches. The refs got their very own red cards in jail time and fines.
The most high-profile of the group was Lu Jun, who represented China at the World Cup in 2002, positioning him as the best of the nation’s refereeing elite. Lu was even known as the ‘Golden Whistle’ in recognition of his perceived impartiality.
Apparently not. Lu has now admitted to taking more than Rmb800,000 of bribes to fix seven league games between 1993 and 2003, Xinhua reports. He got a five- and-a-half year jail sentence and was fined Rmb100,000.
The other referees received jail time too. Regular readers of WiC won’t be particularly surprised by the disclosure that some of China’s football referees have been fiddling results for cash. We’ve reported fairly regularly on the problems in the Chinese game (see WiC31 for one of our favourite cases of match rigging). But we’ve also made clear that senior figures (including Hu Jintao himself) see the professional league as a national embarrassment and have ordered a clean-up.
Xinhua says that the jailing of referees is “the first important verdict following a crackdown on soccer-related corruption”.
The People’s Daily agreed that the punishment was fair: referees that once acted as “dignified judges’” were now “discredited prisoners”.
However, as Shenzhen Special Zone Daily pointed out, 90% of those surveyed in an internet poll believed that the final sentencing was “too light”. Like other newspapers, it noted too that Lu even managed a smile on news of his punishment.
The crackdown looks set to spread wider, with China News reporting that two days after the referees were sentenced, two more officials were also dealt with. The vice chairman of the Chinese Football Association, Yang Yimin, was convicted for taking bribes, receiving a 10-and-a-half year jail sentence. And facing even longer behind bars is Zhang Jianqiang, the former secretary general of the Football Association’s Referee Committee, who got 12 years.
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