China has named a player of mixed African and Chinese heritage to the national men’s volleyball team in a noteworthy selection in one of the country’s most popular sports.
Ding Hui (丁慧), 19, is being heralded as the first “black” athlete to play top level sport in China, media reports said yesterday.
Ding, who also played on China’s national youth squad in 2004, was named in China’s national volleyball team this week and is expected to be key to the nation’s drive towards the London 2012 Olympics, the Beijing News reported.
The native of the eastern city of Hangzhou was raised by his Chinese mother and began playing competitive volleyball in his mid-teens, according to the official Xinhua news agency and other reports.
Ding’s father is believed to be South African, although reports did not indicate whether he is in touch with his son.
“Black skin, thick lips and big white teeth are the main characteristics of Ding Hui’s appearance,” said a report on the sports section of Netease.com, one of China’s main Internet portals.
“Due to the special characteristics of his bloodline Ding Hui is blessed with pliability, toughness and agility and has been been undergoing volleyball training at special sports schools since he was young,” it said.
According to the reports, no black athlete has represented China on a national team.
“The coaching staff has been watching him for some time ... his demeanor is the most important thing for me,” the Beijing News quoted national team head coach Zhou Jianan (周建安) as saying.
“He has a very active demeanor on the court, so he will bring a lot of fire to our team,” Zhou said.
Zhou praised Ding’s instincts and passing, placing him among the country’s top five players on both defense and offense.
Zhou said Ding, who plays the libero position, had been a natural for national selection, but the move raised eyebrows with some.
“Countless numbers of people have called me about this issue today, but I just tell them that his ethnic background and family situation are his own private matter about which I have no opinion,” Zhou was quoted as saying by Xinhua.
While Ding’s national selection was unusual, dark-skinned athletes are not rare in China. Exchange students from Africa and elsewhere have featured on university teams and amateur squads, while there are many black players in the professional soccer and basketball leagues.