With its boss detained for economic crimes, and the media speculating over its precarious finances, you would think the news couldn’t get much worse for Dalian Shide.
Not so! There was further controversy last week, courtesy of a debacle at the company’s football club.
The team – based in the northeastern city of Dalian – had just lost 1-0 to rivals Shanghai Shenhua. In the wake of this result, the Yangtze Evening Post says “a regrettable scene occurred”. This involved a female journalist being punched in the face at Dalian Shide’s stadium, and then kicked by a group of men while she lay on the ground.
The journalist in question was Tao Xingying of the Xinmin Evening News, and she later described her ordeal on her weibo microblog. Another reporter, Li Chuntian of Sohu Sports, offered third party testimony on her account; while shocked members of the Shenhua team – including star French player Nicolas Anelka – also witnessed the violent scenes.
The flashpoint seems to have occurred during the post-match interviews. Tao and other reporters were trying to talk to Shenhua’s players when Dalian’s staff moved to evict the media pack from the stadium.
Tensions reached boiling point when Dalian Football Association Secretary General, Guo Jun shouted: “You get out or I will push you out and seize your work certificate.”
Tao claims she shot back: “As a responsible person from the Football Association you should facilitate press interviews rather than interfere – not to mention that it’s raining outside.”
All verbal cut-and-thrust so far, but then the mood turned violent. Two men from Dalian’s staff rushed over and threw Tao to the ground; scattering her shoes and dictaphone across the ground. She was then kicked, held by the neck and punched in the face – she alleges – by an angry Guo.
Another female reporter who was also present says: “I was so scared. I never seen the Football Association beat people. All the players got off the bus. Even Anelka was so angry, he insisted that I write down the matter.”
Shenhua’s Zhang Chuan (who translates for the foreign players) added that he saw Guo hit Tao in the face and was willing to testify on her behalf.
Of course, few of these testimonies would have been required if the violence had been caught on camera. In fact, it was: but the TV crew was then frogmarched off to a separate room and ordered to delete it.
The editor of the channel later wrote on his weibo: “I’m sorry to tell everyone that this tape has been damaged and we are unable to restore it. I hereby express our condolences to the female reporter.”
The incident quickly prompted an online furore. In response to the public outcry the Dalian Football Association set up a group to investigate the matter. It concluded with spectacular understatement that the incident had “produced a negative impact on the community” and offered an apology to the media. It also confirmed that Guo had been suspended from his post and other staff members from Dalian Football Association would be dismissed.
The Chinese Super League said “We will draw on this lesson to strengthen education and management within our division and prevent such incidents from happening again.”
Tao, meanwhile, remains far from satisfied with the findings of the investigation, which denied the beating and said she had fallen to the ground as a result of an altercation.
“I was held by the neck with my feet off the ground and punched in the face. There were many witnesses. The description given [by the investigation] that ‘physical contact led to my falling on the ground’ is unacceptable,” Tao says.
The debacle is another reminder of the problematic state of Chinese football, which WiC has often reported on before. The quality of play in the top league this season has improved, but the Dalian punch-up offers further fodder to the game’s many critics.
The fact that it happened at Dalian Shide’s ground is also ironic, given the turmoil faced by the team’s corporate owner in the wake of the Bo Xilai scandal (see WiC145).
Dalian Shide has lost its last four games, and morale is low. “Dalian Shide hasn’t been performing well,” wrote blogger Chic Xuzhouer. “That has caused the Secretary General to be in a bad mood, but his behaviour indicates Chinese football is still hopeless. With people of such quality engaged in football, no wonder our football level remains low.”
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