China—the world’s 2nd largest economy, with a population of 1.4 billion—cannot put up a soccer team qualified for the World Cup. China’s absence in the World Cup this year marks its fifth time failing to join the game. In fact, China only appeared once in the World Cup in 2002, without scoring any goals.

Even the domestic league situation doesn’t look any better. Last year, six soccer teams were dismissed due to financial difficulties, including the 2021 champion—Jiangsu FC 2020 was even worse. 16 professional teams were disqualified from the league due to the same reason. 5 others voluntarily disbanded.

This year, China’s absence at the World Cup brings up the problem. Chinese soccer has been lagging far behind for decades. According to an opinion article on Bloomberg, “Bribery, match-fixing, illegal gambling and other corruption has plagued the sport since the 1990s.” China’s antigraft watchdog has hunted down many corrupted officials, players, and referees. 

Just as the World Cup is taking place in Qatar, the department investigated former national men’s soccer coach Li Tie. The probe has sparked a heated discussion among Chinese netizens. The South China Morning Post reported that some users called on the government to investigate the whole national team.

The national soccer league has been filled with scandals. Li Tie is just one of the dozens of people the corruption campaign has purged since 2010. Many ended up in prison. For example, in 2010, former Chinese Football Association (CFA) vice-chairman Nan Yong was sentenced to more than 10 years in prison. The court accused him of taking 1.19 million yuan in bribes between 1999 and 2009.

Rowan Simons, author of Bamboo Goalposts, told CNN in 2010 that corruption in Chinese football was so bad that even players had to pay to join the games. He said, “There was even a rate card published in the press. £10,000 to get selected for the national squad. To get a run out as a sub is £20,000. Players have come out and said they can’t play for the national team because they can’t afford it.”

On top of that, the Chinese people have never taken pride in the national soccer team’s performance. Earlier this year, in the eighth round of qualifiers for the Asian region of the World Cup, the team lost 1 to 3 to the Vietnam team. Shortly after the loss, Chinese media Phoenix posted an article titled, “National Football Team defeated by Vietnam 1-3! Officially missed the World Cup on the first day of the Lunar New Year, adding to the frustration of fans.”

The article attracted hundreds of comments from Chinese netizens, which showed their frustration, but in a sarcastic tone.

Sign up to receive our latest news!

By submitting this form, I agree to the terms.