And Finally

Game oft thrown

Furore over yet another fixed soccer match


He had to go: Gao Hongbo

It has not been a good fortnight for China’s national football team. Its chances of qualifying for the World Cup look all but over after a 2-0 defeat in Uzbekistan (a result that saw Chinese coach Gao Hongbo resign). If anything, the previous result had been worse: a 1-0 loss to war-torn Syria, a country that lacks a training ground. The humiliating defeat was inflicted at home (in a stadium in Xi’an) leading Chinese fans to demand the head of Cai Zhenhua, the president of the Chinese Football Association.

“Should Chinese football start from scratch?” state media asked, and, to be fair, the authorities are focusing on grassroots programmes to improve China’s chances, with thousands of academies being built across the country in a bid to nurture a generation of better players.

But Titan Sports is pointing to a fresh football debacle that is “even more disappointing than the loss to Syria”. It involves match-rigging at a tournament in Guangdong. And all the more depressing is that the scandal – which has grabbed national attention – involved teams of 10 year-old boys.

On October 5 the final round of the Guangzhou Yida Under-11s Autumn Cup saw two teams still in contention for the title. Guangdong Qingmiao and Dongshan Xiaoye had both won five games and drawn one. Their final fixtures would determine which was the champion.

Qingmiao played first, taking on bottom-ranked Shawan Lanshi, and outclassing its opponent with a rugby-like scoreline of 31-0. That put it ahead of Xiaoye with a 17 goal advantage on goal difference.

Xiaoye then faced far tougher opposition in Tikitaka, and by the end of the first half it was trailing 1-2. Then something incredible happened. As the whistle blew to start the second period, a Tikitaka player turned back from the centre circle, headed purposefully through his own half, and hammered an own-goal past his goalkeeper.

This stunning opener was followed by a flood of goals from Xiaoye against a supine Tikitaka defence. The game finished 25-2, meaning Xiaoye won the tournament thanks to a superior goal difference, causing an immediate outcry that – to use Trump’s phrase of the moment – the whole thing had been ‘rigged’. Qingmiao’s coach immediately protested, saying his players’ “pure view of the world cannot accept this, how can football be trampled like this?”

Titan Sports commented: “Losing 24 goals in the 30 minutes of the second half is not normal. It is even more unimaginable that Tikitaka players in the second half not only played negatively, but also took the initiative to kick the ball into their own goal.” State news agency Xinhua lamented too that the game was “a clear violation of the principle of fair competition”.

Guangzhou’s Football Association has now banned Tikitaka from playing again in its leagues and also stopped Guangzhou Yida FC from organising further competitions for three years.

The media has been more interested in how Tikitaka was persuaded to throw the game. It seems that there was bad blood with Qingmiao, after allegations that it had fielded an over-age player drafted in from the Evergrande football academy. There was also anger among parents when a Qingmiao player smashed a ball at them, triggering a row on the sidelines of the pitch.

Tikitaka’s coach was absent on the day of the match, and a parent with Xiaoye anonymously told Titan Sports that a Tikitaka parent suggested the team throw the game to prevent Qingmiao winning the tournament. That same Xiaoye source claims they refused the offer “but could not control how our opponent would play, we only asked our children to be themselves”.

The reaction online was predictably hostile. “People are ‘shocked’ not only due to the unbearable memories of past match-fixing scandals in China, but because it is hard to believe that this scandal was inflicted by parents on innocent children,” wrote one.

Another furious netizen lambasted the parents, stating “their selfishness is shameful and sad” in urging their children to fix a match “for the sake of their momentary pleasure”.

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