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January 22, 2010

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Soccer match-fix probe reaches 3 top officials

A crackdown to root out the glaring cancer of match-fixing and gambling in Chinese soccer has brought three top officials under investigation.

The Ministry of Public Security said yesterday that two vice presidents of the Chinese Football Association, Nan Yong and Yang Yimin, as well as Zhang Jianqiang, the official in charge of Chinese women's football, have been summoned to help with the investigation.

The three were cooperating with police in the massive inquiry of the country's most popular sport, Xinhua news agency reported yesterday.

Nan and Yang were taken by police when they were called to an urgent meeting at 8pm last Friday.

Police officers took Zhang the same day when he was taking a walk outside his apartment at Beijing Sport University.

"With the full support from the sports department, the crackdown on manipulating domestic soccer matches through commercial bribery has showcased a firm attitude in fighting corruption and rectifying the soccer sector," the public security ministry said in a statement.

"The crackdown also gives us confidence that we can revitalize Chinese soccer," it said.

Goal China, a professional football newspaper, listed several possible crimes that toppled Nan. The report said he was allegedly involved in a botched 50-million yuan (US$7.3 million) China Super League naming-rights deal.

Nan was said to have been watched by police for more than a month.

Colleagues of Zhang and Yang said they didn't know why the two were investigated. They said that Yang, a PhD supervisor at Beijing Sport University, was never known to be involved in soccer gambling, the report said.

Former Shanghai Shenhua Football club manager Jia Xiuquan was also "assisting police" with the investigation.

So far, more than 20 former club leaders and players have been questioned for allegedly manipulating match results. Nan, Yang and Zhang are the highest ranking officials yet caught in the hunt.

The nationwide scrutiny was conducted by police in Shenyang City after they seized a soccer-betting syndicate based in the Liaoning Province capital.

Li Chengpeng, a former football player known for exposing inside stories in the football industry, said in his blog, "This is the battle we wanted."

He said now is the best chance to rid the sport of its distorted image and rescue the "beautiful game."

Haunted by scandals, Chinese football has disappointed fans in the country and prompted them to follow international games rather than domestic matches.


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