China has recruited soccer mega-star David Beckham, to help rehabilitate the tainted image of the Chinese Super League.
Beckham, who will simultaneously be playing for French club Paris Saint-Germain, will be traveling around China to help promote the nation’s local league and the sport in general. Quite the exertion for a man who, at 37, is well past the prime for a soccer player.
“I’m excited by the prospect of promoting the world’s greatest game to football fans inside China as I’ve seen firsthand there’s a great interest in football from sports fans in China,” Beckham said in a statement.
“I’m honored to have been asked to play such an important role at this special time in Chinese football history,” the statement continued.
But perhaps the job is less of an honor, and more of a public relations stunt orchestrated by the football association to gain back some credibility.
For many of China’s soccer fans, promotion and exposure of the game is not the problem, rather, it is the extensive corruption that has led to the disinterest in the sport. The most recent soccer scandal left the league’s former championship team and former team of international soccer star Didier Drogba, the Shanghai Shenhua, stripped of their 2003 title and slapped with a 1 million yuan ($160,000) fine.
In February, the disciplinary committee of the Chinese Football Association, or CFA, dealt with the sweeping scandal by banning 33 people for life from all future soccer-related activities for their involvement in fixing matches. The match-fixing infiltrated deep within the organization as it was discovered a total of 53 players, referees and administration had varying degrees of involvement in the operation. Among the people banned were two high-ranking administrative directors, who have already been jailed for taking bribes.
Fan Guangming, a former CFA official who was part of a 1.5 million-yuan match-fixing deal, revealed in an interview with Chinese media that it is the many people within the association that are involved with match-fixing that enable it to continue.
“The problems have been existing for more than 10 years. As the administrator, we talked a lot but took little action. There were few measures, and they were not stern enough,” Fan said.
The deep-rooted problem, many Chinese soccer fans say, cannot be fixed by Beckham.
One fan on Sina Weibo, China’s Twitter-like social media platform, said that he does not get the decision to bring Beckham on board.
“This is a superficial change by the CFA. Even if Beckham comes, what exactly is he going to do? Chinese football’s prospects are bleak.”
The Chinese Super League, which has a comparable structure to the English Premier League, will begin on March 8. Whether real efforts or changes have been made to improve the tarnished image of Chinese soccer and ensure fair play has yet to be seen.