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China football heads, players in bribery trials

Associated Press Modified: April 25, 2012 at 9:00 pm •  Published: April 25, 2012

BEIJING (AP) — Two former heads of the Chinese Football Association are among eight officials and players on trial for bribery in a major push to punish those who have long tarnished the sport.

Courts in the northeastern province of Liaoning have started hearing the cases of Xie Yalong and his successor, Nan Yong. Xie is accused of taking $273,000 in bribes from sports equipment manufacturers, professional clubs, and a former national team coach. Nan is accused of taking at least $160,000 in bribes.

Others on trial include former national team manager Wei Shaohui, former head of referees Li Dongsheng, and four former national team players.

Xie's lawyers moved to have his confessions ruled inadmissible, claiming they were obtained by torture.

He told the court he confessed to some of the allegations because someone "forced him" under interrogation.

Xie's lawyer Jin Xiaoguang told the People's Daily website that the defendant confessed to crimes he did not commit "because he wanted to stay alive."

Chinese football has long suffered from the bribing of coaches, players, and officials by gambling syndicates. Those actions have been blamed for depressing the quality of play in China. China has made it to only one World Cup, in 2002, under Serbian coach Bora Milutinovic — Nan Yong's controversial pick to lead the team.

New anti-graft measures, stronger finances, and the import of expensive foreign talent has since lifted the China Super League, although current CFA boss Wei Di on Wednesday warned against backsliding.

"Lessons have been learned from the scandals, but similar cases might happen again in the future. So we must stay vigilant all along," Wei said in Beijing.

The anti-corruption sweep has already netted dozens of culprits, and in February, former CFA deputy chief Yang Yimin was sentenced to 10½ years in prison for accepting $200,000 from 20 different clubs. Another former head of referees, Zhang Jianqiang, was imprisoned for 12 years for taking $433,000 in bribes.

China's sports authority also issued a statement about the fight against corruption.

"The crackdown on soccer graft shows that the country's actions against corruption are in firm hands," said the statement released by the Mass Sports Department of the State General Administration of Sports, according to the official Xinhua news agency.

"Not only officials from the Chinese Football Association, but all staff on general sports posts are deeply touched," it said. "We've all seen clearly that it's necessary, for the sake of healthy development of the Chinese soccer as well as on other aspects, to take major efforts on continued actions against corruption."