Beijing:Chinese police have announced the arrest of up to 16 former players, along with club and league officials, as part of a widening probe into rampant match fixing in the country's professional football league.
News of the arrests, announced by the Ministry of Public Security, was a top story in newspapers and Web sites Thursday, with reports focussing on the lurid details of how money was exchanged to fix the outcome of games.
News of the detainments, made over a period of time, come amid increased scrutiny over the sorry state of the sport in China, including extraordinary statements of concern from officials as high-ranking as Vice President Xi Jinping. China is now 97th in the FIFA world rankings
In one instance in August 2006, Yang Xu, general manager of second-tier team Guangzhou Pharmaceutical, was accused of handing 200,000 yuan ($30,000) to his counterpart at rival club Shanxi Wellsend, Wang Po, to ensure a win for Guangzhou. Shanxi players were instructed to lose by a wide margin. The game ended in a 5-1 win for Guangzhou.
The reports said Wang Po and another manager, Wang Xin, allegedly bet on the game with an overseas football gambling Web site. But their alleged winnings of just 100,000 yuan ($15,000) suggest Wang Po was acting on behalf of a larger syndicate that had put up the money for the original bribe.
The reports said the investigation was aided by the arrest of Wang Xin in the northeastern province of Liaoning in April after he fled Singapore amid an investigation into match fixing in the southeast Asian city state.
The Singapore probe turned up evidence of match fixing in the Chinese league, helping investigators tie Wang Xin to others involved in the corruption.
Other details of the broader investigation were not clear and only four of those detained were named in the reports: Wang Xin, Wang Po, Yang Xu and Ding Zhe, a former coach in the Chinese league. They were held on the charge of "suspicion of employing commercial bribery to manipulate the outcome of football matches," the reports said.
In a statement carried on its Web site, the Ministry of Public Security said the crackdown was in response to the "fervent wishes of football fans."
"We hope the relevant authorities will take this as an encouragement to step up their management of the football industry," the statement said.
News of the arrests coincides with an announcement by European football's governing body that five clubs in Albania, Latvia, Slovenia and Hungary are suspected in European football's biggest match-fixing investigation.
On Wednesday, UEFA General-Secretary Gianni Infantino described match-fixing as a "cancer we need to eradicate."
Similar language was used by the vice president of the Chinese Football Association, Nan Yong, in comments to the official Xinhua News Agency published on Thursday.
"Match-fixing is a 'cancer' in football competition and should be attacked and eradicated ruthlessly," Nan said. "Otherwise, Chinese football will not have a stable, healthy environment in which to develop."
CFA spokesman Dong Hua on Thursday referred reporters to media reports, saying the body would make no additional statements.
The league's problems date back at least until 2001, when allegations of match throwing and bribery of referees first emerged. Similar accusations re-emerged repeatedly over the eight years since, prompting denunciations from the CFA, but little action.
Over the same period, China's performance in international competition slumped as football's popularity among fans lost ground in favor of basketball and young players turned away from the sport in droves.
China was knocked out of 2010 World Cup qualifying last year, failing to make the top 10 sides in Asia. In its only World Cup appearance, in 2002, China lost all three games while failing to score a single goal.