John Yan: A tacit-understanding match
How do you differentiate a fixed match and a ‘tacit-understanding match’?
It is way beyond my English capability to explain the intricate and subtle meanings under the descriptions of a match in the 17th round of the Chinese Super League between Tianjin Taida and Liaoning Hongyun on July 14t. The away team, Liaoning, lost 1:3, and media in China has been crying for a thorough investigation into this match.
It was a very strange match. Three days before this league match, there was a round of the CFA cup, and Liaoning won at home 5:0 against a weak Tianjin team made up mostly of reserve players – that was also the opening day of a new stadium for Liaoning’s home matches. Therefore, the home team looked very favouable in their new home opener. Three days later, Liaoning sent a team to play in the league without any foreign players – and foreign players are widely considered to be key members of any CSL team – then Tianjin, who have been fighting a relegation battle all season, got their positive match result, easily. With this win Tianjin move out of the relegation zone.
This is a blatant ‘tacit-understanding match’, which is not a fixed match by any bookmakers, illegal underground gamblers, but by both clubs. They traded each other with favorable results and felt reasonably comfortable with that.
This is nothing new. We are still wondering what happened in the 2004 European Championship Finals, when teams were playing the last final group match, only if a result of 2:2 between Sweden and Denmark could get Italy relegated. Then the result was 2:2 exactly, with some impressive goals. Was that a fixed match? Maybe we can’t use that strong language, but a ‘tacit-understanding’ between Sweden and Denmark was there and they promoted themselves out of the group stage over the dead body of Italy.
It is up to the game’s regulators to make a decision. These kinds of matches happen all the time, and even those clubs’ fans could live with that cheating. However, for the sake of the sport, this is the time for the sport’s custodian to show up.
There were some interesting international cases: for an EPL match on December 15, 2010, Wolverhampton was visiting Man Utd at Old Trafford. The then Wolves manager, Micky McCarthy, sent a totally different team with nine changes from his usual starting eleven – Wolves lost 0:3. This is definitely not a fixed match, but Wolves’ negative attitude was a serious offence to the sport as well to the league. They were guilty both in the spiritual and commercial sense, and a fine of £20,000 was issued.
Not only football has been very careful about these kinds of cases in both ethical and commercial senses. The NBA had similar cases in which San Antonio Spurs received hefty fines last season.
What should the Chinese Football Association (CFA) do? They would rather do nothing, but they have to act and investigate and dig out some facts. This could be an prededent-setting case in China – cheating is not accepted in professional sport, because in all cases, it damages the sport to no end.
But the CFA seems to be more interested in the national team. Fu Bo, a former striker of Liaoning, was confirmed as the interim manager of the national team, which departed for Korea on July 18 for the East Asia Cup.
Before the whole team’s leaving, a two day camp was held in Beijing, not for training, but for political propaganda education. The CFA and its boss, the National Sport Administration, could not afford any more PR disasters in regarding to the national team. Team China doesn’t have the capability of defeating Korea nor Japan in this cup competition, but the bottom line is very clear: you could lose the matches, but you cannot lose faces any more.
Then how about the ‘tacit understanding match’ that happened in the league and cup competition? The bosses are too occupied to care about the ethics of the game.
John Yan is Deputy Editor of Netease.com