Sponsors desert Chinese football

National team goal keeper Guan Zhen kicks the ball in a friendly against Costa Rica on 26 March 2011
Image caption Corruption - plus the ranking of the Chinese national team at 76 in the world - have sapped interest

China's top football league is beginning a new season without a main sponsor or a national TV deal.

Main sponsor tyre maker Pirelli has torn up its contract with the Chinese Super League, and football officials have failed to find a new one.

National broadcaster China Central Television is refusing to show the matches, and there are reports of poor ticket sales at some clubs.

The league has been hit by a series of scandals in recent years.

The problems do not stem from a lack of interest in football in China - there are tens of millions of potential fans.

The problem is the league itself, or more precisely, the people who run it.

Several senior officials from the Chinese Football Association have been arrested over match-fixing allegations.

Top referees were sacked for taking bribes and even players have been tainted by claims of corruption.

The national team has not helped either - years of poor results have seen China drop to 76 in the Fifa world rankings.

That has turned off fans, many of whom now prefer to watch top European football instead.

More on this story