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China starts football corruption trials
The former head referee of China's football Super League went on trial on Monday on charges of bribe-taking, kicking off a series of corruption hearings involving top officials.
A handcuffed Zhang Jianqiang appeared in court in the eastern city of Dandong charged with accepting match-fixing bribes totalling 2.6 million yuan ($409,600), state television showed.
He is the first senior official to go on trial after a crackdown on corruption that reached the top echelons of the game, and led to the downfall of the head of the Chinese Football Association (CFA).
Gambling, match-fixing, crooked referees and poor performances by the national team made the sport the laughing stock of increasingly indifferent fans, and a matter of state concern.
According to state media, CFA officials routinely fixed matches, including national team and league games, by allegedly buying off the teams or referees involved.
The suspect CFA officials also reportedly accepted pay-offs from players wanting to be named to the national team -- a practice that was also widespread among league clubs.
Sponsors abandoned the sport, and state television network CCTV refused to broadcast Super League games.
More than 20 former football officials and referees including former CFA vice head Yang Yimin and Lu Jun, a Chinese referee who officiated at 2002 World Cup, will go on trial this week, the state Xinhua news agency said.
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