Tue, Nov 23, 2010 - Page 19 News List

Taiwan Beer’s China bid sparks ‘brawn drain’ fear

AFP, TAIPEI

Lin Chih-chieh, playing for Taiwan, carries the ball against Iran in their men’s preliminary-round Group F basketball encounter at the Asian Games in Guangzhou, China, on Sunday. Iran won 73-72.

PHOTO: LIN CHENG-KUNG, TAIPEI TIMES

The Taiwan Beer basketball team’s bid to join China’s professional league has intensified concern that the nation is suffering a “brawn drain” to its giant neighbor.

Taiwan Beer, championship winners in 2006-2007 and 2007-2008, recently announced that they want to play in the Chinese Basketball Association (CBA) league, adding to an emerging exodus of players heading for China.

“We cannot stop players from making the most of their limited athletic lives, but rather than losing one after another to Chinese teams, our team could join the CBA,” head coach Richard Yan said.

The team, named after the signature product of their main sponsor, Taiwan Tobacco and Liquor Corp, would attract more backers and offer better deals to players once in the CBA, he said.

The plan raised a few eyebrows, with basketball authorities saying they opposed the team moving their big shots to China while leaving junior players in Taiwan’s Super Basketball League (SBL).

“Of course we hope top players stay in Taiwan ... We don’t want the SBL to become a sideshow to the CBA,” said Huang Chao-her, secretary-general of the Chinese Taipei Basketball Association.

While the association does not bar individual players from moving to China, it would be difficult for the Taiwan Beer team to get the green light because it has a state-funded sponsor, Huang said.

“Such a move would require the approval of various government agencies in charge of sports, labor, finance and China affairs. It is a very complicated matter,” Huang added.

Several top coaches reportedly backed Taiwan Beer, saying it is inevitable for local teams to tap into China’s vast market in the wake of dwindling box office income and funding.

For years Taiwan’s top athletes have gone to powerhouses such as the US and Japan in the hope of taking their careers to the next level, but increasing they are setting their sights on China.

“The trend of going to China is unstoppable,” said Chu Yen-shuo, a Beijing-based Taiwanese sport critic and former chief editor of Hoop Taiwan magazine.

“Just like many European players joined the NBA, it’s only natural that people want to move where there is more money,” he said, adding top Chinese players can earn up to five times more than their Taiwanese peers.

Lin “the Beast” Chih-chieh, a former star forward of Taiwan Beer, was among the players and coaches who jumped on the bandwagon when he joined the Guangsha Lions in China’s Zhejiang Province last year.

“China’s environment is more competitive. There are more teams and I can vie with top Chinese and foreign players,” Lin said in a telephone interview.

“It’s a great opportunity to improve myself and boost my career. At my age it’s now or never for me to take on the challenge,” the 28-year-old said.

Basketball — both the NBA and the homegrown game — is wildly popular in China, with hundreds of millions of Chinese regularly watching NBA matches on television. Dozens of US players are playing in China’s professional leagues, with the highest-profile addition being the former NBA All-Star Stephon Marbury, who joined the Shanxi Brave Dragons this year.

Lin said Taiwanese players need to brace themselves for a major challenge if they want to play in the stressful and physically demanding Chinese league.

Huang cited the case of the Sina Lions as a warning about the dangers of wishful thinking about China.

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