Anger, sadness among fans after documentary exposes scandals in Chinese soccer
Published: Jan 11, 2024 01:03 AM
Illustration: Liu Xidan/Global Times

Illustration: Liu Xidan/Global Times

After watching the fourth and final episode of a documentary about corruption in Chinese soccer which aired on Tuesday night, Chinese social media platforms were immediately flooded by messages with strong emotions. Countless fans expressed their anger, disappointment, and sadness through social media, lamenting how their previous attention and support for Chinese soccer had been a waste, while raising questions and suggestions for the sport's future development.

After four consecutive days of airing on China's state broadcaster China Central Television (CCTV), the four-episode anti-graft blockbuster "Continued Efforts, Deepening Progress" has come to an end. The part that got the most attention from the public was about the largest anti-corruption campaign in the history of Chinese soccer. In the fourth and final episode of the documentary, the focus was on the cases involving soccer-related individuals.

Among them were Li Tie, former head coach of the Chinese men's national soccer team; Chen Xuyuan, former chairman of the Chinese Football Association (CFA); and Du Zhaocai, former deputy director of the General Administration of Sport. All three individuals publicly repented in front of the camera.

The anti-corruption drive in soccer has been running for over a year since November 2022, and analysts pointed out that it has set records in terms of duration, scope and number of arrests, making it the most extensive anti-corruption action in the history of Chinese soccer. Du, in particular, held the highest-ranking position among all the officials who have been arrested in soccer-related anti-corruption operations.

On Tuesday night, the viewership of the documentary even surpassed that of the recent popular Chinese TV drama "Blooming Flowers" directed by Wong Kar-wai, as the details of the corruption shocked the audience.

He Sheng, probably the most famous fan following the Chinese national team, wrote on his social media after watching the documentary, "The tears that I shed for the Chinese national team are a waste."

However, just three hours after posting this comment, He posted a photo of himself packing his luggage, preparing to go to Qatar to cheer for the Chinese team in the Asian Cup.

In the photo, his suitcase is packed with a shirt of the Chinese national team and a Chinese national flag. "The most painful thing is that after seeing all this, I still have to pack my bags [to watch the Chinese team]," he said.

Another netizen wrote that when the documentary was aired, he didn't dare to turn on the TV because there were people around. "Later, I watched it on my phone on my own. My heart was pounding, and I felt both pain and anger. I couldn't control my tears."

"It turns out that our World Cup dream is a joke," another netizen wrote. "When we were dreaming, the head coach was selecting players through bribery."

Another netizen accused former CFA chairman Chen Xuyuan, questioning whether he sincerely considered the future of Chinese soccer when celebrating victory with the Chinese team in the locker room.

"After watching the documentary, I am really angry, regretful, and sad for Chinese soccer," media veteran Hu Xijin said on Sina Weibo early on Wednesday morning.

"For so many years, Chinese soccer, which has taken up a lot of manpower and financial resources, has mostly brought humiliation on the field, followed by various scandals and conflicts within the industry," he wrote. "It seems that it has really decayed from within. Chinese soccer indeed needs fundamental reform."

Many netizens expressed regret and anger while also offering their own ideas for improving the future of Chinese soccer.

One netizen suggested that the CFA should further streamline its departments, while local soccer associations should focus on promoting young players from rural areas.

"Chinese soccer still needs to face the problem of how to cure itself," one netizen wrote in an article posted online. "I hope that the achievements of Chinese soccer will no longer be seen as part of the political achievements of the Chinese Football Association's leadership."

"What needs to be considered next is how to implement anti-corruption work into the daily operations of the CFA," another netizen wrote. "Because Chinese soccer cannot afford to go through another large-scale anti-corruption campaign."

According to several senior sports journalists, not only the Chinese national team players who are preparing for the Asian Cup in Qatar, but also all officials of the CFA will watch this documentary. Furthermore, officials have been asked to submit a post-viewing reflection of over 1,500 words.

This news quickly became a trending topic on Sina Weibo, with many netizens commenting that it is a formality.

"Can't there be other educational methods that are more effective?" senior soccer journalist Li Xuan wrote. "If the CFA does not take advantage of this opportunity to improve its own governance, then this 'tuition fee' may be in vain."

At the end of the anti-corruption documentary, CCTV interviewed several young players. Facing the camera, these children all expressed their dreams of "playing in the World Cup when they grow up."

According to a poll released on Wednesday on the Chinese sports news website Zhibo8, after the documentary aired, over 70 percent of the more than 40,000 respondents believed that it would take at least 50 years for the Chinese men's soccer team to qualify for the World Cup again.

Global Times