Tue, Aug 11, 2009 - Page 19 News List

China hopes to use Games experience to build pro leagues

AFP , BEIJING

A year after the Beijing Olympics, China aims to use the experience of the successful Games to build lucrative market-based professional sports leagues, a top official said.

China’s beleaguered soccer association has yet to turn a profit despite 15 years of existence, while the basketball league that produced center Yao Ming has not done much better financially.

“The development of professional sports is a new kind of endeavor for China,” Cui Dalin, vice minister of the General Administration of Sports, told reporters in an interview on the first anniversary of the 2008 Beijing Olympics. “We have no experience in being successful, and no trial events that we can learn from, so we have encountered all kinds of problems.”

Cui was largely referring to the scandal-plagued professional soccer league that has been wracked by allegations of corruption — from organized gambling to crooked referees and rowdy fighting among players.

Meanwhile the 18 clubs in the popular basketball league reportedly lost 115 million yuan (US$16.9 million) last year, despite increasing the number of matches and allowing more foreign players to play.

‘NATIONAL CHARACTER’

“Why do we have these problems?” Cui asked. “This is a problem of China’s national character ... our level is too low.”

“The question for us is how can we go along the road towards professional sports that conforms with China’s national character,” he said. “This is something that we are still exploring and researching.”

“We have learned a lot from the Beijing Olympics,” Cui said.” We must actively push forward this and we must now find the kinds of sports that the people want to see and find a direction for professional sports within the market economy.”

But he warned that Western powers such as the NBA and other sports management companies would not be allowed to operate leagues in China, but could only serve as “cooperative partners.”

“The organization of every domestic sport league is done by each of China’s sporting associations, who will organize the events and the games,” Cui said when asked about the NBA’s hopes for China. “We will look for cooperative partners, like some globally known branded tournaments and corporations, but the management and organisation of the sports will be done by our associations.”

BEIJING RULES

Whatever role world sports marketers hope to play in China, Cui further said the government-run sporting bodies should have a leading role, echoing what global businesses have known here for decades.

“Another part of China’s national character is that the government always plays and important role,” Cui said. “If you have the support of the government, you can probably do well and succeed.”

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