Beijing: Commentators on Tuesday described penalties for corruption in Chinese football as inadequate, after 33 people were banned for life and Didier Drogba’s former club Shanghai Shenhua was stripped of the 2003 league title.
Shenhua were among a number of clubs and individuals punished by the Chinese Football Association (CFA) for widespread match-fixing scandals that have blighted the game in China.
But the measures would not deter corruption, football pundits said, because ever more money was flowing into the sport.
“These are not really serious punishments,” Yan Qiang, vice-president of Titan Media, one of China’s leading sports publishers, told AFP. “I do not think this is enough to set an extreme example to warn off future offenders.
“The professional football league is getting more popular and attracting more public attention,” he added. “But where there is profit, there will be more people trying to get into it with illegal ways, so it will be an ongoing fight.”
Shanghai Shenhua were also fined one million yuan ($160,000) and received a six-point deduction for the new Chinese Super League season starting next month, as were Tianjin Teda.
“I personally think this is not enough and it is regrettable that no clubs were relegated this time,” said Xi Jiren, head of sports at Xinhua news agency.
“The CFA should learn from what Europe has done,” Xi told the China Daily, referring to a series of corruption clampdowns which saw Italian giants Juventus relegated and stripped of two Serie A titles.
China also has previously relegated teams from the country’s top league for match-fixing. Chengdu Blades FC and Guangzhou Pharmaceutical, who later became current champions Guangzhou Evergrande, were demoted in 2010.
Shanghai did not comment when contacted by AFP but a club source was quoted in domestic media as saying they had been “treated unjustly”.
“The football association believed the current team isn’t completely different to the mainstay of the team back then, so they insisted on the punishment and we cannot do anything about it,” the insider told the Oriental Sports Daily newspaper.
Shanghai were found guilty of fixing a game against Shanxi Guoli during the 2003 campaign and were among 12 clubs given “disciplinary punishments”.
Tianjin were found guilty of fixing a game in the same season.
Jilin Yanbian were fined 500,000 yuan and deducted three points for throwing a match in 2006.
The CFA also banned 33 people from involvement with football for life, including former CFA heads Nan Yong and Xie Yalong, who have both been convicted and jailed for taking bribes. Another 25 people were banned for five years.
Social media users blamed the authorities themselves for the scandals.
“To see where the environment for this corruption was bred, one need look no further than the original culprit - the CFA,” said one post on Sina Weibo, China’s version of Twitter.
“I would suggest the CFA be banned for life from Chinese football.”
China launched a high-profile crackdown on corruption in football in 2009, and scores of officials, referees and players have been imprisoned in recent months as the campaign reaches a climax.
The league appeared to turn a corner as star foreign names were brought in, among them Drogba and Nicolas Anelka, his former team-mate at English Premier League side Chelsea, who both joined Shenhua.
But both players have since left the club, with Drogba going to Turkish league leaders Galatasaray in disputed circumstances and Anelka signing for Juventus on loan.
China’s top sides are mainly bankrolled by cash-rich business titans willing to pay top salaries to lure foreign talent.