BEIJING, Jan. 22 -- Up until the once mysterious "disappearance" of three high officials with the Chinese Football Association (CFA), there had been suspicion that the fever-pitched campaign against gambling and match-fixing in professional soccer may, like other anti-graft initiatives, come to a halt before getting close to the root of the problems.
No conclusion would be convincing without the CFA being subject to rigorous scrutiny. We all know the governing body is far from innocent, or the state of Chinese soccer would not have fallen this far. But we need to know to what extent the CFA was involved and what it was doing.
Police authorities have confirmed that the three officials, including two CFA vice chairmen and a former chief of the CFA Referees Committee, were questioned as part of an investigation, which indicates that this anti-graft campaign might be different.
Many share the belief that Chinese soccer, on the men's side in particular, has no future without a thorough overhaul of the management system. In that sense, the CFA is the logical starting point for the housecleaning. So when the reform began with the arrests of match-fixers and grassroots cadres, there was the impression that authorities were again using kid gloves.
It is an open secret that the chaos in Chinese soccer is not a matter of one rotten egg spoiling the whole pudding. The solution, therefore, is not as simple as getting rid of a couple of black sheep. Not to mention those small potatoes uncovered before could hardly be convincing scapegoats for the hopeless state of Chinese soccer - the men's side in particular.
No matter what has led the probe to where it has now gone - we have all noticed recent remarks from the very top of the political hierarchy voicing concern about Chinese soccer - extending the probe to the highest level is a welcome development.
In order to transform the sport of soccer, we need to first make clear what has gone wrong, and of course who is responsible for the corruption.
Offenders and abusers must pay. But the revival of Chinese soccer entails more than that. That professional soccer has degenerated into a lawless realm has to do with not only morbid human desires. It is rooted in part in the management system.
Professional soccer in China is like a weird hybrid of naked commerce and bureaucracy. And it combines the ugliest from both worlds. But it will not be fair, either, to just point the finger at individual wrongdoers.