A Weibo influencer known to his over 200,000 followers as GOAT. 

He made this footage after Japan took an intense 2-1 victory in the match against former champions Germany. The match belonged to Group E of the 2022 World Cup at the Doha Stadium in Qatar.

The influencer’s reaction stemmed from the fact that China has not qualified to participate in the World Cup for the past 20 years.

 The last time that China participated was in the World Cup in Korea and Japan in 2002.

The NextShark news agency cited a Weibo user saying, “What is even more embarrassing is that 14 people cannot be picked out of the 1.4 billion people.”

Why does a country with the second largest economy in the world and people who love soccer like China have such a poor performance?

Rowan Simons, author of Bamboo Goalposts, a recent book about soccer in China, told CNN that if the Chinese national team wants to reach the World Cup finals, China will have to keep soccer clean at the local level.

Any soccer superpower worldwide has a healthy and professional soccer league. The leagues, such as Bundesliga in Germany, La Liga in Spain, and Premier League in the U.K., have helped the manager of the national teams select the best-performing players. What about the Chinese Super League? The players and the team are busy fixing the matches.

For a soccer fan, watching a match that has been fixed is absolutely unacceptable.

But that has been happening in China for decades now, and this is the biggest reason the country’s soccer is dying.

A former Chinese player who requested anonymity to avoid retaliation from former coaches and mates told The Guardian about the country’s problems.

Before some matches, the player would receive a phone call from an unknown number, usually from a gambling syndicate. The unknown number wanted him to join in match-fixing and would pay the player thousands of dollars. The player told The Guardian he never accepted any offer.

However, Chinese players’ salaries were often painfully low and delayed for months. Less essential players on his team got about $245 as a monthly salary. This amount is barely enough to support their families, and their wages are usually paid late.

Meanwhile, Gambling syndicates sometimes offered more than $6,000 to influence the match. As a result, Chinese players were prone to accept such offers. He said 30% of Chinese soccer matches were rigged before the anti-corruption crackdown.

The player also said conditions for Chinese players had improved dramatically over the past years.

Yet, Ma Dexing, the deputy editor-in-chief of the famous Chinese sports magazine Titan Weekly said it didn’t help much. Despite player salaries rising, corruption remained a problem. 

Ma said that Chinese local government officials often manipulated matches to manage their political relationships, it is not always about money.

Ma added that local officials would “ask the team’s boss to kick a player off the team if the player doesn’t listen to him.”

For example, Bo Xilai, the former Mayor of Dalian, interfered in the Dalian Wanda club deeply.

Vice news agency reported that Dalian Wanda club chairman Wang Jianlin was China’s richest man, with a fortune estimated at $32 billion in 2013. He also owned a 20% stake in Spanish giant Atletico Madrid at the time.

Wang has publicly accused officials of match-fixing, and it has also been suggested that he grew tired of Bo Xilai’s interference in soccer affairs.

But not all club chairmen agree with Wang. Xu Ming is one of the owners who like to please local politicians.

Bo helped Xu to get significant construction deals in the 1990s. Therefore Xu Ming bought the Dalian Wanda club in 2000 to cement their relationship. Then he changed the name of the club to Dalian Shide.

Dalian Shide won many trophies, including successive league titles in 3 years from 2000 to 2002.

Xu continued to fund the lavish lifestyles of Bo’s family many years later. For instance, one time, Xu picked up the tab for flights and accommodation for Bo’s son to invite 40 classmates from Harvard to visit Beijing, Chongqing, and Shanghai.

Xu also bought a luxury villa on the French Riviera for Bo’s family and Bo’s wife, Gu Kailai hired Neil Heywood, a businessman born in London, to manage it.

Then, Dalian Shide started to drop down from champions to a candidate for relegation in 2008.

Like the club, Xu and Bo’s prosperity could not last. Bo’s wife was accused of poisoning Neil Heywood with cyanide. She had to pay with her life for the crime. Bo was sentenced to life for receiving bribes from Xu.

Xu was convicted behind closed doors and sentenced to four years in prison. But he never did it as he passed away from a heart attack in a Hubei prison, aged 44, in December 2015.

The corruption in Chinese soccer is not only at the club level.

Police accused Nan Yong, the supremo of the Chinese Football Association (CFA), and two other senior CFA figures of bribe-taking and match-fixing in 2010. Nan confessed that he received gold, diamonds, and watches from clubs and referees. 

During the investigation, Police questioned scores of CFA officials, club executives, referees, players, and agents.

The fear of match-fixing rose again in early August at an under-15 match in southern Guangdong province. China Daily reported that the game happened in “farcical scenes.” 

The Qingyuan team was “Leading 3-1 approximately midway through the second half, Qingyuan’s players appeared to suddenly stop trying to compete, merely strolling aimlessly around the pitch instead. That allowed Guangzhou to score four times in 13 minutes to emerge a 5-3 winner.”

 Not over, in the Chinese Super League, Tianjin Tianhai surprisingly thrashed Rafael Benitez’s Dalian Yifang 5-1 in November.

As France news agency reported, Rafael Benitez got the 2005 Champions League title with Liverpool, but he suffered one of the heaviest defeats of his coaching career in China. Post-match address, he could only say, “This is a game that I don’t quite understand.”

 The Chinese Football Association remained silent while fans suspected the match was fixed. 

Why do Chinese fans think so?

Because the state-run China Daily reported in 2010 that CFA officials would buy off players or referees to fixed matches, including league games and national teams.

Besides, some CFA officials also forced players to pay bribes to play at the national level.

Rowan Simons told CNN that this problem had become a practice that was also widespread at the club level.

Simons said, “There was even a rate card published in the press.” 

Players would pay $14,960 to get selected for the national team and get a run out as a sub of $17,950. Many players said they couldn’t play for the national team because they couldn’t afford it.

So, the question is, among those who can’t pay bribes, how many can help the national team get a victory?

Chinese soccer, including management agencies, is ruined from the club level to the national team. In this context, the World Cup for China is, so far, just a dream.

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