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Page last updated at 10:45 GMT, Monday, 22 February 2010

Two football teams relegated from China's Super League

By Damian Grammaticas
BBC News, Beijing

Chinese football fans, February 2010
China's national football team is ranked 87th in the world

China's Football Association has decided to relegate two teams from the country's Super League to its second division in a corruption scandal.

The teams are accused of being involved in match-fixing and gambling, according to official Chinese media.

One of the teams, the Chengdu Blades, is owned by the English Championship side Sheffield United.

They are the most serious punishments yet following a major investigation into corruption in Chinese football.

It was 2006 when Sheffield United bought a majority stake in Chengdu Blades, hoping to develop football in China and unearth new talent.

The following season the team won promotion to China's Super League.

The success was hailed as the fruit of an "innovative relationship" that had helped Chengdu become a powerhouse in Chinese football.

But now state media say Chengdu are to be relegated as punishment for alleged match-fixing. It is claimed that the club bribed an opposing team to lose a crucial game and ensure Chengdu's elevation to the top flight.

National squad

Chengdu's chairman Xu Hongtao and his deputy have already been detained. It is all part of a widening crackdown on corruption in football.

Twenty senior officials and players have been implicated, including the former head of China's Football Association, Nan Yong.

Police and tax investigators say players and referees have been bribed to throw games and some team members paid up to £10,000 ($15,500) each for a place in the national squad.

Last year even President Hu Jintao voiced his concerns about the state of Chinese football. While China has become a powerhouse in events at the Olympics, its national team still languishes, ranked 87th in the world.

A second team, Guangzhou GPC, are also being relegated for alleged match-fixing.

A spokesman for Chengdu told the BBC that his club welcomed the attempts to clean up the sport, saying it would not appeal as it accepted the punishment. He added that the game at the centre of match-fixing claims was still under investigation by police.



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