What We Can Learn from China’s Soccer Corruption

Posted: June 15, 2012 in Politics
Tags: ,

This week two former chiefs of China’s soccer association were sentenced to ten-and-a-half years in prison for taking bribes. This is being marked as the cap to a two-year crackdown on corrupt club officials, referees and players that’s seen 56 people put in jail – all part of an effort to improve the soccer prospects of a country with 1.3 billion people that can’t manage to throw together a team better than North Korea’s. Even if you don’t care about soccer, this is a story worth paying attention to.

I’m hardly the first to note the similarities between the problems Chinese soccer faces and those of China’s government. In a nutshell, the organization of people indulging in the bribery and corruption is the same one charged with policing and disciplining itself. It seems just about everyone can see the inherent problem with this arrangement – except those on the inside.

Much like the government does when faced with endemic official corruption, Chinese soccer is tackling the problem with a one-off crackdown and parading the stiff prison sentences that the prosecuted receive. This is essentially like deploying a Kleenex to battle pneumonia and then showing off the huge snot-wad it removes. It temporarily takes care of the most obvious symptom and looks impressive, but there’s a lot more snot inside that didn’t make itself so obvious. And since the systematic problem hasn’t been addressed, the body will remain a perpetual snot, cough and phlegm-producing machine.

In both the government and soccer league there’s obviously a fair amount of self-delusion from those who genuinely do want to clean things up but think they can do so without giving up any power. “If only we can find the right recipe of role-models, stern warnings, harsh punishments, guilt-tripping, gimmicks and (non-independent toothless) anti-corruption commissions, then we won’t need truly independent watchdogs keeping us in check and slowing down our grand vision,” they imagine.

Now we’ll get to watch what happens in the aftermath of this soccer crackdown and perhaps make some wider conclusions about where China’s authoritarian system as a whole is headed. Some bold democratic reforms have been proposed for the league, so we’ll see if there’s enough support to actually get any enacted and enforced. Either way, if this relatively small corner of Chinese governance can’t be cleaned up, what chance does the greater national system have? If rampant corruption seeps back into the league and the country remains awful at soccer, then it’s probably safe to conclude that the long-term prospects of “Socialism with Chinese Characteristics” in its current form are equally grim.

About these ads
Comments
  1. […] On corruption, in Chinese soccer and life. “Much like the government does when faced with endemic official corruption, Chinese soccer is tackling the problem with a one-off crackdown and parading the stiff prison sentences that the prosecuted receive. This is essentially like deploying a Kleenex to battle pneumonia and then showing off the huge snot-wad it removes.” [Sinostand] […]

  2. Greg Rhodes says:

    Moving beyond corruption is essential for China to build a robust, open economy in the long term. I hope they’re able to make progress, but I don’t yet see a system change.

  3. That was a good post. I wonder if the phenomenon is really about democratic processes or authoritarian rule. When it comes to soccer India is worse than China. And India boasts of democracy.

    The way I see it, democracy, as currently practiced in India (perhaps elsewhere as well), is a form of Limited Duration Monopoly (LDM). Because, once elected, for a certain duration – in India, 5 years – the people just can\’t change the government. Which only means that for 5 years there\’s no alternative/competitive forces. LDM is just another form of Authoritarian rule.

    We have very little hopes of India performing any better in soccer in the foreseeable future.

  4. James says:

    Unfortunately, for corruption to die, either

    (1) everyone in the nation has to be really tired of it, and willing to work at getting rid of it, [not likely for 1.6 billion people]

    or (2) the powers that be have to want to get rid of it. [not likely, since they benefit from it]

    So, barring a very public, very ugly incident of corruption that is widely reported enough to really stir public sentiment against corruption, or the powers that be really wanting to win a World Cup, regardless of lining their own pockets, we won’t see corruption in soccer die in China.

    If that’s the way they want it to be, they can have it just as they want it to be.

    If they reform themselves and win, I will rejoice.
    If they continue to fail, it is their own fault.

  5. bcheng says:

    I agree and have often wrote that the problems with the Chinese government are often so easily seen in the nation’s football league. What it comes down to is that while things like match fixing need to be attacked and cut out of the game, everyday “corruption” is not going to go away anytime soon. Sure the leaders are going to jail for 10 and a half years, but their crimes aren’t that different from what goes on everyday in China. If you go to the hospital to have a baby or a surgery, you have to give the doctor a red envelope, when Spring Festival comes around you have to give gifts to your kids’ teachers. Why do we expect things to be any different in sports?

  6. stinsondm says:

    These timed campaigns…you have to ask the obvious question, so if they have designated two years in which to enforce the rules, then what are they doing the rest of the time?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s