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Football Reporters Should also be Investigated

An article asking the question: Why have China’s football beat reporters been left out of the league-wide investigations?

The China Football Association handed out another round of rulings this week, demoting Guangzhou Pharmaceutical and Chengdu Sheffield United from the China Super League after evidence showed the teams had bribed opponents during the 2006 and 2007 seasons. Additionally, Qingdao Hailifeng was disqualified after police said the team’s chairman, Du Yunqi gambled during the end of a game, attempting to manipulate the score so Du could win more money. Both Du and the Hailifeng team captain were arrested. Global Times ran an article earlier this week outlining the new rulings.

The investigations into corruption within the China Football Association have been going on for several months, and include hundreds of players, officials, owners and referees, amounting to one of the largest investigations in recent Chinese sports history. What has not been addressed throughout the fiasco is the football beat reporters’ role in the scandals brought to light.

In a January 2010 China Sports Review article, it was reported Nan Yong, vice president of the China Football Association and Yang Yimin, a senior official in both the China Football Association and the Asian Football Confederation, along with Zhang Jianqiang, China Football Asociation’s head of referees, were detained by the police for interrogation. Newspapers that reported on Nan Yong and Yang Yimin initially were able to pull up instances of corruption, gambling and match-fixing over the span of a decade. The Guangzhou, Chengdu and Qingdao teams just exposed for bribery and match-fixing relate to games played as far back as four years ago.

I was recently asked whether the illicit behavior taking place in the China Football League was a failure of Chinese newspapers to act as a watchdog for the sport. I responded by asking that given the enormity of the investigations, their scope and the more than 10-year time frame we’re looking at, the question should really be which news organizations were NOT involved in some way with the corruption? This investigation is so sweeping and comprehensive it would not be surprising to find out most journalists were privy to information that would have gotten league officials and team owners in trouble. And if that were the case, it would mean journalists had an incentive going for them to not report the problems within the league.

I am not naming names. I am not implicating anyone or organization with this article. In fact, I have no actual proof that journalists are guilty of anything. For all I know, they very well could have had no knowledge of the corruption, gambling and match fixing. But in this instance, where the top officials have been detained, where teams are being handed severe penalties, where the whole league is being looked at from top to bottom, I have to imagine reporters, photographers and editors around China knew at least some of the information way before the scandal broke. And by “way before” I mean years before.

So why was the corruption not exposed earlier? Did reporters really have no knowledge? Or were they told not to report the truth? Were they bribed as well? Were they handed shut up money just like the reporters that kept quiet after the Hebei mining disaster? Was it to their advantage not to say anything in order to keep reporting on football? And were the newsroom editors just as oblivious?

Should the China Football Association decide to impose more penalties and fines during the investigation — and we’re far from the end — it will not be complete unless the league sits down with media organizations and talks with those that covered the sport.

— Zachary Franklin

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