The Chinese culture of bribery and corruption has once again crashed hilariously into their sports culture, when the Chinese soccer team lost a World Cup qualifier match 1-0 against… Iraq. How could a country that barely exists as a country after decades of dictatorship, war, and occupation beat the newly emerging world power? Well (via Adam Mintner at Bloomberg):
The Chinese public’s passion for their national team’s history of mediocre soccer is a curious thing. In its history, China has qualified for only one World Cup, in 2002. China’s home-grown professional league enjoys pockets of popularity, but is often overshadowed by the misbehavior of its bratty stars — most of whom also play for the national team. This is despite the Chinese state — and companies seeking to curry favor with it — spending vast sums on the the Chinese Football Association, or CFA.
So how, then, did China’s loss to Iraq turn into one of the most angry and sustained popular discussions on China’s internet in recent months? Because, like so many other recent scandals in China, the national team’s World Cup failure is, in large part, a story about corruption.
For years, the Chinese public has been irritated by the self-serving bureaucrats who run the CFA, and a series of match-fixing scandals tied to them. In 2009, President Hu Jintao gave his support for police to conduct a thorough cleanup of the Chinese soccer system. Since then, more than a dozen soccer players, officials and referees — including one World Cup referee — have been arrested in an ongoing match-fixing investigation that has received intense media coverage. In March, a principal investigator on the case confirmed that “it was a common practice for football clubs to give bribes to referees.”
Despite government efforts to publicly come down on the Chinese soccer system, online commenters have adopted soccer corruption as a proxy for the wide-scale corruption that suffuses, and weakens, Chinese contemporary society.