China’s sports landscape experienced a significant jolt as Du Zhaocai, the former deputy minister of the General Administration of Sport, was ousted from his esteemed positions in the Communist Party of China (CPC) and public office. The gravity of this decision was amplified given the magnitude of the accusations against him, which brought to light the rot that existed at the heart of the Chinese sports hierarchy.
Charges Against Du Zhaocai
According to the official statement released by the Communist Party of China Central Commission for Discipline Inspection and the National Commission of Supervision, Du’s infringements were numerous and grave. Besides accepting bribes – a grave violation in itself – he was also guilty of confronting and resisting organizational probes. His involvement in what the statement called “superstitious activities” further raised eyebrows.
The revelations were staggering. Du, as the statement read, “leveraged the convenience of his position to seek benefits for others and illegally accept huge amounts of property.” Not only did these acts compromise the integrity of his office, but they also cast a long shadow over the sport he was designated to oversee.
Impact on Chinese Soccer
Du’s position as the Party secretary of China’s soccer governing body, the CFA, since 2018, added another layer of complexity. His leadership had coincided with a period where Chinese soccer was under the microscope, both for its on-field performances and the shadow of corruption lurking behind the scenes.
Under Du’s tenure, the sport faced continuous underachieving milestones. The Chinese men’s national team, once the pride of the nation, secured a mere two wins since July 2022, with a significant absence from competitive matches. Such poor performance, coupled with the corruption charges, made many question the very foundation upon which Chinese soccer was being run.
A Larger Anti-Corruption Drive
Du’s investigation, which began in earnest in April, was the highest-profile case in a more comprehensive anti-corruption sweep targeting the sports sector in China since 2022. Other influential figures, such as former soccer chief Chen Xuyuan and the former secretary-general for the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic Games Ni Huizhong, were also under the scanner.
Gao Zhidan, director of the General Administration of Sport, acknowledged the deep-rooted issues in March. He emphasized the urgency with which Chinese sports authorities were probing the problems, especially in soccer, and stated their commitment “to cure the sickness with powerful medicine.” This strong statement of intent illustrated the seriousness with which the government was approaching the issue.
Since November 2022, the crackdown has intensified. 14 soccer-related officials, including the former national team head coach Li Tie and CFA chief Chen, have found themselves ensnared in these investigations, primarily on charges of accepting bribes.
One of the most significant setbacks during Du’s leadership was the relinquishing of hosting rights for the AFC Asian Cup. Originally scheduled to be held in China, the much-anticipated event was postponed and moved to Qatar in 2024.
A Beacon of Hope Amidst The Storm
As the sports community grappled with the news of Du’s removal, the Hangzhou Asian Games were nearing their conclusion. Providing a silver lining, Chinese athletes showcased their prowess, securing over 200 gold medals. With their eyes firmly set on the upcoming Paris 2024 Olympics, the athletes seemed unfazed by the tumult in the administrative corridors.
Mao Jiale, a prominent sports commentator based in Chengdu, highlighted the importance of this anti-corruption drive for the athletes. Speaking to the Global Times, he opined that “Du’s removal from his posts coincides with the achievements of Chinese athletes at the Asian Games. It indicates that the massive anti-graft storm in the sports sector will not impact athletes’ performances but ensure their unhindered preparations for major tournaments.”
Furthermore, Mao reflected on the tarnished image of soccer in China due to mismanagement at the highest echelons of the CFA. He remained hopeful that “the dismissal of these corrupted officials will pave the way for the progress of soccer,” especially considering its immense popularity in China.
The expulsion of Du Zhaocai is more than just the removal of an official. It serves as a potent reminder of the urgent need to cleanse the system, ensuring that the vast potential of Chinese athletes is not undermined by the misdeeds of a few. As China forges ahead, seeking global dominance in sports, rooting out corruption remains paramount. The hope is that such actions will herald a new era where integrity, transparency, and excellence become the defining pillars of Chinese sports.