Chinese basketball rocked by match-fixing scandal

Society & Culture

The Shanghai Sharks and Jiangsu Dragons will have their season results nullified as a result of match-fixing claims, while several other individuals have been punished.

Jiangsu's Antonio Blakeney (center) vs. Shanghai Sharks

In a season controversy-strewn season that saw one former champion — the Xinjiang Flying Tigers — quit the league, the Chinese Basketball Association (CBA) has been rocked by an even larger scandal, this one involving match fixing between the Shanghai Sharks and Jiangsu Dragons in the opening round of the 12-team CBA playoffs.

Suspicions arose after Friday’s deciding game in the three-game series, when Jiangsu, leading 100-96 late in the contest, conceded multiple turnovers, leading Shanghai to close the game on a 12-4 run to win 108-104.

The turnovers included a behind-the-back crossover dribble that bounced off the player’s backside, an inbounds pass that flew over a player’s head, a steal underneath the opponent’s basket, another inbounds throwaway, and a backcourt violation (though this one was a questionable call by the ref). Jiangsu was whistled for a technical foul for good measure. Shanghai’s Antonio Blakeney scored two late buckets when the result was already no longer in question.

After the game, “match-fixing” trended on Chinese social media.

Following an investigation by the CBA Disciplinary and Ethics Commission, both teams were found to have displayed “a lack of competitive effort in their playoff games,” constituting a violation of sportsmanship, according to Xinhua. While the third game was the one that brought attention to the two teams, Shanghai was also found guilty of showing a “lack of competitive effort” in the second game in the series on April 11.

The league did not say the reason behind the match fixing, but the Associated Press points out, “Match-fixing in China is believed to be controlled by influential gambling syndicates, with players, coaches, referees and association officials all involved. Soccer has been much more heavily targeted than basketball, where compensation, sponsorships and prize money are less generous.”

Both teams were disqualified for the season, nullifying all their results. Each club received a fine of 5 million yuan ($727,000). Shanghai coach Lǐ Chūnjiāng 李春江 and Jiangsu coach Lǐ Nán 李楠 were banned for five and three years, respectively. Jiangsu’s general manager Shǐ Línjié 史琳杰 and Shanghai’s general manager Jiǎng Yùshēng 蒋育生 were also slapped with restrictions from basketball-related activities for five and three years.

CBA President and Chinese basketball icon Yáo Míng 姚明, who played with the Shanghai Sharks before moving to the NBA, expressed “heartbreak” over the scandal at a press conference. “Both teams have a long history,” he said. “The more we talk about this, the more grief we will feel.”

Yao emphasized the importance of reputation and credit in sports, adding, “We need to draw a profound lesson from this and change some things in the future to make what we have paid for valuable.”

Yao added, “We conducted a very prudent investigation to help us make the decision based on precise matters. We believe that everybody feels quite distressed about this.” He acknowledged the need for the CBA to learn from this experience and implement changes to prevent similar incidents in the future.

The Shenzhen Aviators, who were set to play the winner of this series, will now automatically advance to the semifinals. Six other teams will duke it out for the final three spots in the semis.

The scandal follows the recent match-fixing controversy that rocked the world of snooker, after 10 of China’s top-ranked players were banned for fixing matches at the end of last year.