South Korean soccer star Son Jun-ho has been arrested in China for allegedly accepting bribes as Beijing clamps down on alleged corruption in the upper ranks of Chinese football.
Son was detained by public security authorities in China’s northeast Liaoning province on Friday “on suspicion of taking bribes as a person who is not a functionary of a state organ,” China’s Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said Tuesday.
Son is a midfielder for Shandong Taishan, a soccer club in the Chinese Super League (CSL), which won the 2021 league title and 2021 Chinese Football Association Cup. He’s also a member of South Korea’s men’s national team and was part of the squad that advanced to the knockout stage of the 2022 FIFA World Cup.
A South Korean Foreign Ministry spokesperson said Tuesday the ministry was aware of Son’s situation and that local Korean diplomatic missions were providing consular assistance. The spokesperson would not provide further information due to the Personal Information Protection Act.
Wang said China would provide South Korean officials with the “necessary facilitation” to perform their consular duties.
The Korea Football Association (KFA) said it had written to the Chinese Football Association and the Asian Football Confederation regarding the player on Tuesday but had not yet heard back. Vice President Kim Jeong-bae was checking on Son’s condition with the South Korean Foreign and Sports Ministries, a KFA official told CNN.
Son is the first foreign soccer player to be investigated and detained since the CSL started in 2004, according to China’s state-run Global Times.
His arrest is part of a broader initiative by Beijing to rid Chinese soccer of alleged corruption in the highest levels of the sport.
The Communist Party’s anti-graft watchdog has been investigating a host of Chinese Football Association figures.
They include former president Chen Xuyuan, former vice-president Yu Hongchen, former head coach Li Tie, former secretary-general Liu Yi, former CSL general manager Dong Zheng, and former CFA disciplinary committee head Wang Xiaoping.
Shandong Taishan’s former head coach Hao Wei is also being investigated over allegations of match-fixing, Global Times reported. On Tuesday, Shandong Taishan hired South Korean Choi Kang-hee to replace Hao as head coach.
Mark Dreyer, a Beijing-based Chinese soccer expert and author of “Sporting Superpower,” a book about China’s sporting ambitions, told CNN that Son’s arrest reflects the state of Chinese soccer which is “not in a good place, at all.”
“The league hasn’t been in as bad a state for at least a decade,” Dreyer said. “It was only six years or so ago when Premier League managers were talking about the Chinese league being a threat with its financial muscle.
“The trend at the time was China really could rival some of the top leagues of the world. We’re miles away from that now, light years.”