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Nike exec released in China soccer graft probe

SoccerNews in General Soccer News 17 Sep 2010

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A Chinese executive for US shoe giant Nike has been released from police custody after being questioned in a massive graft probe that has rocked China’s football establishment, state press said Friday.

Li Tong, Nike China’s marketing director, who had been held in the northeast province of Liaoning, was released late Thursday, the leading Titan Sports Weekly reported.

Li was quizzed on Nike’s sponsorship of China’s professional league, and was “aiding” investigators looking into sweeping allegations of match-fixing and gambling that have led to multiple arrests and detentions, the paper said.

Nike confirmed that Li was at home, but said it was unaware of any police investigation into its sponsorship of the Super League.

“It is our understanding that Nike employee Li Tong is with his family in China,” the company’s China spokeswoman Jeanne Huang said in a statement emailed to AFP.

“Nike believes in ethical and fair play in sport as in business, and strongly opposes any form of sport fixing or manipulation. We have no further comment at this time.”

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

Former Chinese Football Association chief Nan Yong, 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 Nan’s predecessor Xie Yalong and the former manager of the national team, Wei Shaohui, the police ministry said in a statement.

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 are looking into the relatively low price of the Nike deal, the Eastern Sports Daily said on Thursday, citing unnamed police sources.

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