Data from the mid-2000s suggests that basketball and soccer were roughly tied as China’s most popular sport with table tennis in third. Soccer is regarded as the No. 1 spectator sport in China. Large crowds attend live games and large audiences tune in for televised games for both local Chinese teams and famous foreign ones. By one count 3.5 million of China’s roughly 600 million soccer fans regularly attend soccer matches at local stadiums. Soccer Boy is one of the country's top comics.

Soccer is the first sport to find some commercial success. The players are highly paid. Many earn over 1 million yuan ($146,000) a year, a considerable sum in China. At home and in restaurants and tea houses, men spend a lot of time sitting around radios or televisions tuning in to soccer matches. The matches themselves can be quite rowdy.

The Chinese claim they invented soccer. Images from the Han Dynasty (206 B.C. to 220 A.D.) show a game similar to soccer being played with leather ball filled with hair.One man in the Song dynasty is said to have played the game so well that he was eventually appointed prime minister.

China was a participant in the first international soccer game in Asia: a match between China and the Philippines in Manila 1913. The Football Association of the People’s Republic of China was founded in 1924. It joined FIFA in 1934, dropped out in 1958 to protest the fact that Taiwan was allowed to play under the name of China and was only readmitted in the 1990s.

Interest in soccer has reportedly dropped off in recent years due to scandals and poor performances by the national team in international competition.

Chinese National Soccer Team

Xu Guoqi, a professor of East Asian Studies at Kalamazoo College, wrote in the Washington Post that all the gold medals won at the Olympics in Beijing meant little to China’s real, hardcore sports fans. “The real metric by which China judges itself against the rest of the world isn’t the discus or the decathlon. It’s not even our record-breaking economic growth or its modern skylines. It’s soccer.”

In the 1920s and 1930s, the Chinese national team was consistently one of the best in Asia. One brilliant Chinese striker, Li Huitang, was called the “the soccer king of Asia.”

The national team has been coached by a succession of foreign coaches: Bobby Houghton (England), Bora Milutinovic (Serbia), Arie Haan (the Netherlands) and Ratomir Dujkovic (Serbia).

China was eliminated from qualifying for the World Cup in 2010 when it lost to Iraq 2-1 in June 2008. Iraq looked strong in the game. After the game the Internet lit up with complaints, frustrations and expressions by Chinese of deeply-felt self-doubt. A newspapers in the northeastern city of Changchun ran only a large, bold black headline, “The National Soccer Team Lost Again. We Have nothing to Say.” There was no other text on game in the paper.

In June 2008, angry fans turned on the national team during a 1-0 loss to Qatar, a country with about with about a half million people.

In February 2010, China scored its first ever win against South Korea and they did in convincing 3-0 fashion in the East Asian championship. In 26 previous matches between the two teams China had never won.

Failure of the Chinese National Soccer Team

Xu, the professor at Kalamazoo College, wrote: “When it come to our beloved sport, China is not just the sick man of Asia. It’s the sick man of the world. Our soccer tragedy is epic. In the late 1970s, when China resumed international play, after decades of self-imposed isolation, our national men’s team has made it to the World Cup only once.” The poor performances of the team “have also prompted doubts about Chinese manhood, undermined the country’s vaulted can-do spirit and sparked agonized questions about politics, culture and society — even about what it means to be Chinese.”

“On a deeper level, many Chinese — especially Chinese men — are unhappy, deeply frustrated and prone to strong, deep-rooted pangs of helplessness and abandonment. And it’s all soccer’s fault...Millions of Chinese fans link soccer to their national sense of honor. But when your team isn’t very good, that linkage between nationalism and sport can mean tumult and even tragedy.”

Xu wrote the success of the women’s team “only makes matters worse for the country’s pouting men. If the Chinese could win and prove their manhood in the 1930s? And why are China’s men less impressive on the field than its women?...Some pundits have pontificated that we’re going through an era of yin, or femininity, and have wondered what’s wrong with our yang.”

The Chinese have been lamenting and making jokes about the poor playing of their soccer teams for some time. “Football is my favorite game,” Deng Xiaoping said in the 1950s. “But when I watch China play, I feel like I’m suffocating.”

Reason of China’s Poor Soccer Performance

The poor performance of the national team and match fixing scandals in the Chinese league has turned many Chinese off to soccer and stadiums at games are often nearly empty. Some think that soccer in China will only improve if changes are made in China as a whole: more transparency, the rule of law, less corruption, loosening the Communist Party’s grip on power. Others think the team will only improve if individualism is downplayed and there is return to a Confucian sense of collectivism. Some blame the lack of emphasis on sport in schools, the lack of free time children have to play, a state-controlled program that decides which sports children can compete in, a lack of fields or places where children can play, the popularity of basketball, a lack of soccer tradition like that found in Europe and conflicts between commercialized sports and state sport authorities. Some experts blame a lack-of-money-poor-performance cycle. Because the teams are regarded as losers companies don’t sponsor them and with no sponsorship money the teams don’t get any better.

Sports write He Je told the Los Angeles Times, “China’s lack of success in soccer is due to its conflicted approach to developing the sport.” He said that worst example of this is the Chinese Football Association, which is a commercial entity overseeing China’s professional soccer leagues but is also department in the government, with both of its two systems working against each other. “In China we have so many people and so many resources. If we could stick to one method, we’d succeed,” he said]

China also needs more star players to capture the imagination of fans and provide a role model children who might take up the game.

Antipathy Towards the Chinese National Soccer team

Everyone and everything it seem rails on the Chinese national soccer team when they perform poorly: newspapers, television, celebrity sports bloggers and even other athletes and coaches. The Chinese Daily newspapers have featured special boxes for people to insult the team. The team has been so reviled the Central Propaganda Department has issued orders to news organizations to stop criticizing it. According to one Chinese reporter the Propaganda Department “demanded that the press not overly make quips about or sneer at the Chinese men’s soccer team.”

According to a widely circulated joke in China printed in the New York Times: “There are only two things stopping the Chinese soccer team from going outside Asia to take part in international games: their left feet and their right feet.”

Fans often blame corruption in the state-run Chinese Football Association for the team’s dismal performance and they particularly dislike the association’s leader Xie Yalong, often chanting “Xie Yalong must resign at games. Sometimes the chants have been so loud Xie has left the stadium. Others blame the high salaries earned by players. Some think the money goes to their heads. Players have been caught with drugs and prostitutes.

High expectations are also blamed. One sports commentator told the New York Times, “If they win, we treat them like heroes. If they lose, we say “Go to hell.” Other critics site an emphasis on studying at an early age which stymies new talent from developing, the failure of state sports system in training athletes in sports like soccer which require flair and creativity, combined with team work, and the failure of the state to provide the kind of money and incentives necessary to create good soccer.

Some even think hatred towards the national soccer team could trigger a “major revolution.”Xu wrote in the Washington Post, “Without the rule of law, corruption will get involved, and nobody is responsible to anyone. If Chinese continue to be obsessed with soccer, they’ll definitely demand something dramatic, something political or involving rule of law. It will start with sports and then it will move onto something bigger.”

World Cup Soccer and China

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The World Cup is widely regarded by Chinese as the world's most important sporting event. In one survey, 68 percent of people asked in a Beijing poll said they watched matches in the 1998 World Cup even though a Chinese team was not present and the games were often on in middle of the night.

China has expressed an interest in hosting the 2018 or 2022 World Cups. More than 700 million Chinese watched the World Cup in 2006.

China qualified for its first World Cup in 2002 under the controversial Serbian coach Bora Milutinovic after defeating Qatar, Uzbekistan, Oman and the United Arab Emirates. China all but secured its spot when it beat Oman 1-0 in October 2001 in Shenyang. Chinese fans regard this as the pinnacle of Chinese soccer. After beating Qatar 3-0 to formally secure the berth, hundreds of thousand of Chinese fans celebrated in Tiananmen square. An estimated 60,000 Chinese made the trip to South Korea to cheer on the team.

China didn’t do so well in the World Cup itself. It didn’t score any goals and lost all three of its games: 4-0 to Brazil, 3-0 to Turkey and 2-0 to Costa Rica. After the loss to Turkey, the General Secretary of the Asian Football Confederation said that Asian teams could not compete against the “hard-core professionals” in Europe and Latin America.

China didn’t even make it to the qualifying round for the World Cup in 2006. They were edged out by Kuwait in the first round. China is in a qualifying group for the 2010 World Cup with Australia, Iraq and Qatar

At the time of the World Cup in 2010, China was ranked 84th in the world just ahead of Mozambique. On China’s inability to gain a berth to the 2010 World Cup, a 23-year-old fan told the Los Angeles Times, “We’re 1.3 billion people; can’t we find at least 11 guys who are good at soccer.” What was especially humiliating about the 2010 event is that its rivals Japan and South Korea — and even lowly North Korea — made it. One Chinese fan told the Washington Post, the North Koreans “can’t even feed themselves, but they work harder than Chinese athletes.” With no home team to root for in World Cup 2010, many of China’s hundreds of millions of soccer rooted for North Korea.

In July 2011, China progressed into the third round of qualifying for the 2014 World Cup with a 6-1 victory over Laos.

China Fails to Qualify for World Cup, Again

In November 2011 China was bundled out of qualifying for the 2014 World Cup.Benjamin Cost wrote in Shanghaiist, “The Chinese national team's elation from its 4-0 thrashing of Singapore was quickly dampened by news that Iraq had edged out Jordan in Group A, dashing China's hopes of qualifying for the 2014 Brazilian World Cup. [Source: Benjamin Cost, Shanghaiist, November 17, 2011]

China dominated play from the beginning and Yu Hai opened the scoring three minutes from the interval. China played with just 10 players from the 67th minute after Huang Bowen was sent off for taking a swing at Singapore's Mustafic Fahrudin. However, China continued to control the game as defender Zheng Zheng finished the scoring with goals in the 73rd and 82nd minutes.

Team star Zhang Peiliang frustratedly exclaimed, "We lost out on a ticket for the 2014 World Cup even though we have famous Spanish coach Jose Antonio Camacho. The result cannot be accepted by depressed fans. Who knows when the next time will be for China's soccer team to play in the World Cup."

Apparently it will take a lot more than a grizzled Spanish veteran of the game (whose last few coaching seasons have proved less than spectacular, we might add) to breathe life into the ball club's increasingly deflated soccer ball of a dream...We just hope that last month's trouncing of Chinese kids by Russian youths in a friendly soccer match didn't jinx the national team for life.

The country's Deputy Sports Minister Cai Zhenhua blamed the national team's failures on systematic problems. "We were far behind the international level in many aspects including the soccer population, the training regimen and the professional league," he said. Cai headed a recent fact-finding delegation to visit Japanese clubs and officials. While China may be far behind Japan in youth development and football infrastructure, the increasing wealth of its clubs could pose a challenge to the J-League, traditionally the region's wealthiest domestic competition.

Asian Cup Soccer, the Asian Games and China

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Shandong Lueng
wins championship

China hosted the Asian Cup soccer tournament in 2004. Key games were played at Workers’ Stadium in Beijing. China lost to Japan 3-1 in the finals. Television replays of Japan’s key second goal seemed to show that a Japanese player illegally touched the ball with his hand. It was the first time China had ever made it to the finals of the Asian Cup. It beat Iran in a shoot-out in the semifinals.

Asian Cup Violence in 2004, See Soccer Violence Below

China lost 3-0 loss in a much-watched game against Japan in the Asian Games in 2011. Wang Dalei, a highly-rated goalie who has been wooed by Inter Milan and Manchester United, sparked outrage when he called Chinese fans “morons” and “a bunch of dogs after he was criticized for allowing an easy goal to slip past him. Chinese police were placed on alert and came out in numbers for the game but the game passed without incident as about 200 Japanese fans watched from a segregated section of the stadium.

Soccer at the 2008 Beijing Olympics

The soccer team was an embarrassment. Fifty-two minutes into the China-Belgium game the Chinese player Tam Wangsing was given a red card after he swung and missed a ball and then buried his foot on the groin of a Belgian player, sending him to the ground writhing in pain. A second red card was issued 12 minutes later when the team captain Zheng Zhi elbowed an opposing player. Afterwards the Internet was full of jokes about the game: “The Chinese just won two red medals”; “Our soccer team just won the gold medal in martial arts.”

The Chinese team lost two of its preliminary matches, managed only a 1-1 tie against New Zealand, and lost 3-0 to Brazil, after which one Chinese player admitted the shortcomings of the team saying, “We play soccer like the Brazilians play Ping-Pong” to which the Brazilian table tennis team took offense.

After the loss to Brazil, Chinese fans held a small protest that had to be broken up by police. After the Chinese woman’s soccer team beat Argentina 2-0 the team’s coach suggested that their strikers play for the men’s team.

Club Soccer and China

Teams that did well in the Asian Champions in 2011 were Shandong Luneng, Hangzhou Greentown, Shanghai Shenhua, Tianjin Teda.

The Chinese Professional Football League was launched in 1994. The demand was such that eventuality two professional soccer leagues were created. The average soccer player earns $60,000 a year, a considerable sum in China. Few teams make any money because ticket prices are low and advertising and television revenues are marginal.

Almost every province has at least one team and a wide variety of state-owned and private enterprises sponsor them. The August First team, named after the day of the founding of the People's Liberation Army (PLA), is sponsored by the PLA and is underwritten by Nike.

The Wanda Soccer Club from Dalian has traditionally been one of China’s top teams. Dalian fans are famous for their boisterousness and obnoxious behavior. They have been shown on nationally televised matches shouting obscenities involving animal genitalia. In 2002, Chinese B-League team Gansu Tianma in Lanzhou hired the famous English soccer player Paul Gasciogne.

Club soccer in China has its share of problems. The pitches are not the best of quality. The integrity of the sport was compromised by the “Black Whistles” scandals involving corruption among referees. See Below

Soccer Players and China

Chinese soccer player Wen Junwu, a former star player with the now defunct Guangzhou-based Apollo Football Club, was sentenced to death with a two year reprieve for a murder connected to a gambling debt. In June 2007, Wen murdered a man he owed $11,700. Death with a two year reprieve is usually commuted to life in prison.

In December 2008, national team player Mao Jiangqing was detained for allegedly assaulting a man in a restaurant brawl. He spent a week in jail and was kicked off his team but, according to the Times of London, “the door was left open a recall to the team if the talented 22-year-old play could reform himself.”

Players routinely get yellowed carded and red carded for cheap or deliberate fouls.

Fan Zhiyi, captain of the national team, played for Dundee in Scotland’s Premier League and played one season with Crystal Place in England’s Premier League before returning to China in 1999. He was voted Asian player of the year in 2001 by the Kuala Lumpur-based Asian Football Confederation.

Fullback Sun Jihai, another star of the World Cup team, played for Manchester City in the English Premier League. His Chinese team was paid a $2.8 million transfer fee, a record for a Chinese player. His salary was $910,000 a year.

Midfielder Li Toe is regarded as one of China’s best defensive players. He was voted China’s player of the year in 2001. He received offers from Ajax in Amsterdam and Southampton in England’s Premier League but turned them down so he could concentrate on preparing for the World Cup in 2002.

Midfielder Ma Mingyu played for Perugia in the Series A, Italy's top professional soccer league. Yan Heng played for Eintracht Frankfurt and midfielder Shao Jiyo played for Energie Vottbus in the German Bundesliga.

Zheng Zhi, a striker the captain of China’s national team, led Shandong to the Chinese Super League and Chinese FA Cup titles and played for three years Charton in the English Premier League. He has been named China Soccer League player of the year twice. He now plays for the Scottish team Celtic and has a two-year contract to play with that team until 2011.

Corinthians Sign Brazil’s First Chinese Player

In February 2012, Yahoo News reported: “Corinthians, Brazil's second most popular club with an estimated 24 million supporters, are trying to increase that number by signing Chen Zhizhao, a 23-year-old midfielder who will be the Brazilian Serie A's first ever Chinese player. With no international caps and previous stints in the Hong Kong first division and Chinese Super League, Chen — already renamed simply "Zizao" by the Brazilians — might seem a curious signing for Corinthians from a footballing perspective. As the AP reports, the idea to sign him didn't come from the club's scouts or coaches, but the marketing department "hoping he will help the team expand its brand into the Asian country." [Source: Brooks Peck, Yahoo Sports, February 29, 2012]

Pandering to the Chinese market is nothing new for football clubs, though — particularly in Europe, where Premier League and Italian Serie A sides play preseason friendlies and super cups in China and Spain's La Liga even schedules earlier kick-off times to appeal to Chinese viewers.

This isn't the first time Corinthians' marketing department have led the way on a player signing, either. In 2009, they urged the club to sign injury-plagued Brazilian legend Ronaldo, who scored 18 goals in 31 matches and won two trophies with the club before retiring in 2011. And though the business people led the way in bringing Zizao to Corinthians, the clubs assured Globo that they would not have a say in how, when or where he plays.

Zizao previously trained with Portuguese second division side Trofense, so he knows a bit of Portuguese as well as English. More importantly, he has some skills on the pitch and appears to be something of a free kick specialist.

Chinese Soccer Clubs Recruit Nicolas Anelka and Other Big Name Players

In December 2011, Shanghai Shenhua made headlines around the world when it signed Nicolas Anelka from Premier League giant Chelsea. The ex-France international joined the Chinese club in January with a wage exceeding $300,000 a week. Shenhua said it didn’t plan to stop its recruiting drive there, either, with reports circulating about a push to sign Anelka's Chelsea teammate Didier Drogba. [Source: AP, December 15, 2011]

AP reported: “Shanghai Shenhua is owned by Chinese businessman Zhu Jun, who made his fortune through online gaming. Zhu is fast catching up to big-spending rival Guangzhou Evergrande which has been splashing cash on players for two years.Guangzhou's riches are more representative of the current situation in Chinese football. The club is backed by the Evergrande real estate firm. In 2011, 13 out of 16 top-tier clubs were owned by similar companies, or those involved to some extent in property or construction, as is the league's sponsor Dalian Wanda.

After building a team full of Chinese internationals and expensive Brazilians, Guangzhou spent more than $10 million in the summer to sign Argentine star Dario Conca from Brazilian side Fluminense. Conca then helped the team to its first title by a margin of 15 points. Coach Lee Jang-soo said he isn't finished spending, and the club has set a target of reaching the quarterfinals at next year's AFC Champions League. "We hope we can add two or three high quality players to the roster before the start of next season," Lee said. "We want to defend our title and perform well in the Asian Champions League next season."

Japan's 2010 World Cup coach Takeshi Okada has reportedly turned down an offer from one of the country's biggest clubs, Urawa Reds, and took over at China's Hangzhou Greentown. He is expected to take Japan midfielder Yasuhito Endo from Gamba Osaka and Omiya Ardija's star Brazilian Rafael with him.

Already there have been worries expressed in South Korea over the possibility of the K-League being sandwiched between two richer competitions. A number of well-known South Korean players are working in China and last season, four of the 16 clubs started with Korean coaches. As yet none of South Korea's biggest stars have been tempted to cross the Yellow Sea, but that could change as Guangzhou has been repeatedly linked with a big-money move for Manchester United star Park Ji-sung.

Big Spending Bypasses China's Grassroots

In December 2011, AP reported: The rise of the Chinese Super League as a lucrative destination for high-profile footballers has done little to stifle concern about the underachieving national team or the grassroots development of the game in the world's most populous country. While Asian Football Confederation director of competitions Tokuaki Suzuki is happy to see the big names introduced to the 2012 AFC Champions League, the continent's flagship club competition, he hopes that equal attention can be given to grassroots development in China. [Source: AP, December 15, 2011]

"We welcome such players to come to Asia to play for domestic leagues, as well as the AFC Champions League which can provide the platform where players showcase their capabilities," Suzuki told The Associated Press. "We expect that such moves will become more common in Asia. "In the short term, it will definitely help promote the game in China, but in the meantime we think that it will be very important to keep investing in grassroots level to ensure the sustainable growth of Chinese football as well as considering the financial balance in the long term."

For the moment, however, China's long-suffering fans are enjoying some excitement after years of watching the national team struggle and its clubs lose to those of Japan and South Korea in the Champions League.AFC acting president Zhang Jilong has welcomed the big spending by clubs in his native China."It is always good to see world-class players signing up for Asian clubs," Zhang said. "Football fans around the world will pay more attention to Asian soccer because of these big signings."

Zhang expects the arrival of big names from Europe will aid the development of the game in Asia, adding that the recent recruiting "also proves that the gap between Asian football and the best of world football is closing fast." "Asia has been an attractive destination now for international football players for some time and this confirms it."

Despite the money being spent at the top level, there are reportedly fewer than 10,000 registered junior players in China compared with more than 300,000 in Japan. Amid the excitement at Anelka's signing, there have been some concerns expressed as to whether the money could be better invested elsewhere. One million yuan (around $160,000) would help fulfill the soccer dreams of 50 boys a year, but it is really a huge number for us," Chen Ze, a youth coach was quoted as saying in the state-run China Daily.

Foreign Soccer Teams and China

The English Premier League now regards China as one its largest international markets, drawing between 100 million and 300 million viewers.

David Beckman plugs Pepsi and Adidas. Ronaldinho is the brand ambassador for Lenovo.

In pick up games you are more likely to see players wearing jerseys for European clubs like Barcelona, Manchester United, AC Milan and Chelsea than those belonging to Chinese teams.

European teams such as Arsenal, A.C. Milan and Sampdoria have played before sold out crowds in China. Chinese fans follow them and teams like Manchester United and Juventus on television. English, Spanish and German league games are shown on CCTV5 and BTV. There is particular interest of European teams that have Chinese players.

Barcelona played before full stadiums in a three city tour in China in the summer of 2007. Ronaldinho is one of the biggest pitchmen in China. His image is on everything from Lenovo computers to a Chinese brand of ice cream.

The English soccer club Chelsea let the Chinese national soccer team use its state of the art training facilities to prepare for the 2008 Olympics.

Corruption and Bribery in Soccer in China


Corruption, match-fixing and referee-bribing are relatively common in Chinese soccer. In January 1998, 12 top Chinese clubs admitted in a newspaper survey that they had offered cash bribes to referees, some of whom took he money. The official New China News Service listed soccer scandals as No. 5 on the list of “top 10 crackdowns in 2009.”

Allegations of match-rigging were raised in the fall of 2001, following a 11-2 victory by one team that allowed it move up significantly in the standings; a 6-0 victory with four goals scored in the last eight minutes; and the awarding of a goal to one team by a referee while the opposing team was still taking the field. Later two club owners confessed of their roles in a bribery scheme. The Chinese Soccer Association investigated the matter but took no legal action, claiming it didn’t have enough evidence. After public outrage reached a fever point, it finally acted, suspending several players and slapping the teams involved with heavy fines.

Officials, coaches and players have all been accused of game-fixing and gambling. At least 20 people have been arrested, including Nan Yong, the vice chairman of the Chinese Football Association. In August 2010, Shao Menzhong, the head of the commercial arm of China’s soccer association — China Football Industrial Development Corp.”was detained by police for his involvement in match-fixing scandal.

Song Weiping, the owner of a professional soccer team that investigated the matter, told the Los Angeles Times, “We knew [Chinese soccer] was dirty. But we didn’t know it was this dirty. It was only after we got into the business that we realized giving money to referees was standard operating procedure. I can say that nine out of ten referees have been offered bribes or accepted bribes. Even the most conservative estimates put the number at 50 percent.”

“The going rate for referees is about $7,300 a game,” Song said. a lot of money in China. “At first we refused to do it. But our coach convinced us that if the other team pays up and we don’t, the referee would easily lean in their favor.”

Chinese Referee Accused of Fixing International Matches

in December 2011, AP reported: “A veteran Chinese referee has admitted in court to taking bribes to fix local and international matches, including making sure a local team won the toss in a friendly involving Manchester United, state media has reported.The case of Huang Junjie, a referee for more than 20 years who has been nominated as one of the country’s best, is one of a number of hearings under way following a probe into Chinese football corruption. [Source: Associated Press, December 21st, 2011]

He accepted $245,000 of bribes to fix two international friendlies and taking 20 bribes from six Chinese clubs between 2005 and 2009, Xinhua News Agency reported Tuesday. The international matches included a 2007 exhibition match between the English Premier League’s Manchester United and China’s Shenzhen. Huang took 100,000 Hong Kong dollars ($13,000) in bribes to let Shenzhen win the coin toss, Xinhua said. Manchester United went on to win the game 6-0.

The other international match was a 2009 fixture between Shanghai Shenhua and Australian club Sydney, which the Chinese club won 2-1. “At no stage during the trip or the match was there anything that would have alerted Sydney FC to the situation that has been raised today,” the club said. Coach Vitezslav Lavicka said he remembered nothing suspicious about the match.”I remember that game” but there’s no point to give it any credit, it’s a very strange situation,” he said. “I don’t remember anything out of ordinary” that’s in the past now.”

Huang, who was nominated as China’s referee of the year in 2009, also took bribes from his colleague, referee Zhou Weixin, to sway results, Xinhua said. Zhou is charged with corruption and bribing civil servants. Their trials in northeast China are part of a crackdown on Chinese football corruption that has implicated players and top officials including the former head of the Chinese Football Association.

China Jails Top Soccer Officials for Corruption

In February 2012, Reuters reported: “A prominent former soccer boss and a referees director were handed long jail terms for bribery and match-fixing in China on Saturday as part of a massive anti-graft drive aimed at cleaning up the corruption-blighted local game. Yang Yimin, a former deputy-chief of the Chinese Football Association, was sentenced to 10 and a half years in prison by a Tieling court in China's northeastern Liaoning province, and ordered to pay a 200,000 yuan fine, state media reported. [Source: Reuters, February 18, 2012]

Yang, one of the highest-ranking officials to be swept up in the probe launched over two years ago, had taken bribes totalling 1.25 million yuan on 40 different occasions from domestic clubs and individuals, Xinhua news agency said. Yang would not appeal the sentence, the agency quoted Yang's attorney Wang Shujing as saying. "The punishment isn't harsh," Wang said. "Yang took bribes as a government official and the harshest punishment for taking bribes as a public servant could be the death penalty."

The court also sentenced the CFA's former referees director Zhang Jianqiang to 12 years in jail, with a fine of 250,000 yuan. Zhang, in his capacity as referees director and in other prominent roles in women's and amateur soccer, had taken bribes from a number of clubs in the top-flight domestic competition, the Chinese Super League (CSL), including Shandong Luneng and Shanghai Shenhua. He had taken money from Shenhua to help them win the 2003 league title, Xinhua said. He also did not intend to appeal.

The Tieling court read out trial verdicts and sentences to a total of 39 people, including Du Yunqi, former president of CSL club Qingdao, who received a seven-year sentence. Former Liaoning Guangyuan Club general manager Wang Xin was also sentenced to seven years in prison while former general manager of Shaanxi Guoli Wang Po received a eight-year term.

Soccer fans set off fireworks outside the court to celebrate the rulings, Xinhua said. Chinese soccer has been dogged by match-fixing scandals for years which, along with violence on and off the pitch, has turned fans off the domestic game.Four referees, including Lu Jun, a former World Cup match official once celebrated as China's "Golden Whistle", were handed jail terms of up to seven years on Thursday for match-fixing and corruption-related offences.

Two of the most prominent people caught in the anti-corruption blitz, former CFA heads Nan Yong and Xie Yalong, are yet to go on trial. The verdicts have cast a cloud over the CSL ahead of its March 10 kick-off with administrators facing the embarrassment of a number of scandal-hit teams set to take the field.

Problems with Chinese Soccer Fans

China has a problem with rowdy fans. In the mid 2000s, officials began cracking down on sports fans who yell obscenities at opposing players and referees. One man was banned from matches in Beijing for 12 months. Another was held by police for using the Internet to organize rowdy fans at matches.

A 20 percent rise in facial paralysis in Beijing in 2006 was blamed on fans stressed out by the World Cup. A doctor quoted by the state media said that the he believed the rise was attributed to tension and exhaustion associated with watching the matches, often televised in the wee hours of the morning. The condition, known as Bells palsy or prosopoplegia, is caused by nerve trauma and is temporary. Most victims recovered in a few weeks or months.


One Chinese soccer fan suffered a heart attack after Portugal missed a goal against Angola. He had stayed up three days, drinking heavily and watching World Cup soccer games all night. He survived. His doctor said, “He spent too long continuously watching the games and he drank too much.”

In Shanghai, soccer fans were offered free taxi rides home after watching matches during the last World Cup as part of an effort to keep drunk drivers off the roads.

Soccer Violence in China

China has problems with hooliganism and fan violence. Fans sometimes pelt fans from rival clubs with plastic bottles. In March 2002, professional games were temporarily banned in the city of Xian after fans set fire to stadium seats and attacked police followed a controversial tied game.

In 1985, fans in Beijing rioted after China lost a World Cup qualifier to Hong Kong. In May of that year , heavily-favored China played an important game against Hong Kong before 80,000 fans at the Worker’s Stadium in Beijing. Had China won it stood a good chance of qualifying for the 1986 World Cup in Mexico. But alas it lost. The loss was particularly humiliating in that China was big and anti-imperialist and Hong Kong was a tiny colony made up of Chinese ruled by Britons.

Inside the stadium, fans threw bottles and smashed seats. Outside they damaged buildings and burned cars with plates from foreign embassies. Two thousand police were called in; at least 127 people were arrested. But it didn’t stop there. Fans surrounded the residential compounds of the team, singing the Communist Internationale for the world’s suffering masses to rise up. The team made a public apology for blowing the match.

In 2002, a riot broke out in the city of Fuzhou when a large screen television was shut off just minutes before the China-Brazil match in the World Cup was about to start. Irate fans there turned over cars and tore down signs. The television was turned off by police because they were trying to disperse a crowd because it was disrupting traffic.

Sometimes it is the players not the fans that make trouble. In February 2007, the Chinese Olympic soccer team was involved in mass brawl in a match against the London club Queens Park Rangers. The fight was so serious that the game was abandoned. The Chinese team was accused by government-supported media of shaming the nation. Many ordinary Chinese felt the team was justified in striking back against a provocation from the English side. In 2008, league games were pulled from the national sports channel after a player on the Tianjin city team chased a referee after a match and pushed him down to the ground.

Anti-Japanese Soccer Violence in China

Anti-Japanese soccer violence was a problem during the Asian Cup soccer tournament in Beijing in 2004. Chinese fans booed the Japanese players and threw garbage, paper cups and plastic bottles at Japanese supporters and shouted things like “May a big sword chop off the Japanese heads!” During the Japanese national anthem Chinese fans hissed and booed despite messages on the scoreboard that read: “Be Civilized Spectators! Show a Civilized Manner!”

Outside the stadium before and after the finals, in which Japan beat China 3-1, Chinese supporters burned the Japanese flag and made anti-Japanese speeches and sang old anti-Japanese songs. One group of Chinese surrounded the car of the Japanese ambassador and smashed the car’s windows. Another group scuffled with police and chased the bus with the Japanese team and pelted it with bottles while shouting, “Kill! Kill! Kill!”

In a first round game, between Japan and Thailand, in Chongqing — which had been subjected to fierce Japanese bombing in World War II — two Japanese players were left behind when an angry mob forced the Japanese bus to take off early after a game The angry mob surrounded the bus but didn’t throw anything. Throughout the game Chinese fans booed the Japanese team and threw garbage at Japanese fans. The Japanese government criticized the Chinese government for not doing more to protect Japanese players and fans and reign in the violence.

In February 2008, at a game between China and Japan at the East Asian Championships in Chongqing, Chinese spectators robustly booed and jeered the Japanese team and threw bottles and sticks at Japanese supporters when they greeted the team despite public notices to be on good behavior. By contrast Chinese fans stood up and were respectful for the anthem of North Korea. After the game, which China lost, fans threw rubbish at the Chinese team bus.

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Women's Soccer in China

The women’s team is known as the Iron Roses.

In the finals of the 1999 Women’s World Cup, the Chinese women's soccer team was defeated by the United States 5-4 in a penalty kick shoot-out after 90 scoreless minutes of regulation play at two scoreless overtime periods. The game and tournament itself received quite a bit of publicity in the United States. Over 90,000 people showed up to watch the game live at the Rose Bowl, the largest crowd ever for a women's sporting event, and 40 million U.S. viewers watched it on television.

Unable to afford custom-made uniforms, the Chinese team in 1999 wore men's uniforms. They defeated Norway 5-0 in the semifinal. Midlfielder Sun Wen scored two goals. In the finals the United States won after American goal keeper punched away one of the Chinese penalty kicks after wandering far from her line. In Beijing, authorities were worried about anti-American demonstrations. A busload of police was posted at the U.S. Embassy.

The Chinese women's soccer team did not get nearly as much support from their homeland as the American team did. Most Chinese soccer fans prefer men's soccer over women's soccer and feel the success of the women's team only makes the men's team seem worse.

In the 2003 Women’s World Cup, China exited in the quarterfinals when they were defeated by Canada 1-0. Some regard the game as one of the biggest upsets ever in women’s soccer. Before 2003, Canada had never won a World Cup game. China was ranked forth the world. It was supposed to host the tournament, but it was moved to the United States because of the SARS epidemic.

Top players on the national team can earn more than $25,000 a year. Average players earn around $10,000. Many players save as much of their salary as they can to help their brothers attend university or pay for a proper wedding.

Players on the women's national team wake up at 7:30am and have two slices of bread with butter and an egg, sometimes with a little beef or vegetables for breakfast. After a morning briefing practice begins at 10:00am and ends around noon, followed by a bath, a quick nap and lunch. After lunch there is another briefing and another practice session from 4:00pm to 6:00pm. Then its dinner and a session with massage therapists. There are many rules and regulations, including no cell phones or computers except for a short period in the evening. [Source: Washington Post]

China lost 2-1 to the United States at the Olympics in Atlanta in 1996.

Image Sources: Wikipedia; World Cup soccer; Sinosoc; Soccer fans Hong Kong

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated March 2012

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