Match-fixing scandals have been popping up all over the place as FIFA and various national football organizations have looked to rid the sport of this scourge.
Chinese football, in particular, has been active over the past year in its attempts to respond to the issue, removing the director of the Chinese Soccer Administrative Center and arresting several referees thought to be involved in match-fixing.
In just the past month, more officials have been arrested and accused of corruption, including former Chinese Football Association (CFA) chief Xie Yalong and former CFA head of refereeing Zhang Jianqiang.
Now the investigation has been extended to include Nike officials, as Li Tong (marketing director of Nike China) has been taken into police custody. Although Chinese media have been unable to confirm that Li Tong has been arrested, Nike acknowledged that he has not been to work since September 8th and unnamed police officials told a Chinese newspaper that he was accused of corruption in the sponsorship deal between Nike and the Chinese football association.
The deal with the Chinese Super League, signed just last year, is worth $15M for the current year, potentially expanding to a 10-year deal worth a total of $200M. The problem with the deal is that it pales in comparison to the deal struck by Adidas with the Chinese national team, which came in at $500M for six years. Thus, there are questions over whether Li Tong engaged in some bribery in order to land Nike such a sweetheart deal that stands in stark contrast to that of their athletic apparel rival.
In addition, it is alleged that Nike persuaded the Chinese Football Association to hold the 2010 Super League opening in Beijing despite the fact that there were a number of other cities that were candidates and that Beijing had not applied to be a candidate city for the event. It is thought that Li Tong bribed CFA officials to make the decision in order to expose the Nike brand to the maximum audience size at the event.
Li Tong is probably quite familiar with the world of bribery and corruption in athletic competition, as he is a former champion hurdler for Washington State University and is regarded as the first elite sprinter to emerge from China. Presumably he picked up some tips on how win friends and influence people while dealing with the collegiate system of avoiding the prying eyes of the NCAA, and honed his skills as the recipient of some “unusual” decisions (e.g. competitors being disqualified) during his track career.
It is clear that the year-long investigation is nowhere close to being over, as China is making a concerted effort to clean up the sport in the face of their presumed bid for hosting WC 2026. There are likely to be more arrests of those connected to football, but as of now Nike is the only commercial enterprise on the hot seat.