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Nike exec questioned in China football graft probe

SoccerNews in General Soccer News 16 Sep 2010

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A leading executive in China for US shoe giant Nike has been taken into police custody for questioning in connection with a massive football graft scandal, state press said Thursday.

Li Tong, Nike China’s marketing director, has been taken into police custody “to aid” in the ongoing investigation on gambling and bribe-taking linked to the Chinese Football Association, the Eastern Sports Daily said.

Li will be interrogated on Nike’s potentially huge sponsorship of China’s professional league and his cozy relationship with former CFA head Nan Yong, who was arrested earlier this year, the paper said.

Last year, Nike signed a 15-million-dollar sponsorship deal with the Super League, an agreement that reportedly could be extended for 10 years and augmented to eventually total 200 million dollars.

Investigators suspect bribery could be involved because of the relatively low price of the Nike deal, the paper said, citing unnamed police sources.

The German sportswear and equipment giant Adidas in the past reached a six-year, 500-million-dollar sponsorship agreement for China’s national team, it said.

The police sources said it would take time to clarify if Li had committed any illegal acts in negotiating the deal, the report said.

Nike China was not immediately available for comment when contacted by AFP.

The Eastern Sports Daily said company officials refused comment, but confirmed that Li had not been at work since September 8.

The China-born Li, believed to be in his 40s, was once a star hurdler for Washington State University in the United States and a former Asian record holder.

He has long been seen as China’s first elite sprint champion and a groundbreaker for former world record holder and Olympic champion Liu Xiang.

Gambling, match-fixing, crooked referees and poor performances by the national team have made the sport the laughing stock of increasingly indifferent fans and a matter of mounting state concern.

CFA chief Nan, his deputy Yang Yimin and another top aide were arrested early this year on bribe-taking and match-fixing charges. Scores of officials and referees have been detained.

Authorities are now investigating former CFA chief Xie Yalong, the national team’s ex-manager Wei Shaohui, and Li Dongsheng, the former director of Chinese soccer’s referee committee, the police ministry said in a statement.

The state press has this week widely reported details of the scandal, with CFA officials allegedly routinely fixing matches, including national team and league games, by buying off the teams involved or paying off referees.

As soon as matches were fixed, the CFA officials would allegedly profit by betting on the games, the leading Titan Sports Weekly reported.

The suspect CFA officials also allegedly accepted pay-offs from players wanting to be named to the national team — a practise that also was widespread among league clubs.

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