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NBA ‘re-evaluating’ China coaching programme after abuse allegations

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The National Basketball Association is reviewing a coaching programme in China following an ESPN report alleging mistreatment of young players.

The ESPN report, published last week, spoke off-the-record to coaches that had been involved in the programme and had witnessed young players being physically abused and failures to provide the players with adequate schooling.

The training programme was launched in 2016 and involved the NBA placing coaches in Chinese government-run training facilities to deliver elite coaching to some of the country’s best young prospects. The league hoped to “find another Yao [Ming]”, sources told ESPN.

NBA deputy commissioner and chief operating officer Mark Tatum told ESPN the league is now “reevaluating” the programme.

ESPN reported that complaints about the abuse of players and the lack of schooling had been made by coaches to NBA China, the league’s subsidiary that manages its activities in the market. Tatum referred to one incident that had been reported in writing by an NBA employee, and three others that were not in writing. He admitted that the league had “limited oversight” over what went on in the academies.

Because the academies were government-run, Chinese officials selected players and contributed to the training programmes.

NBA coaches also reported a lack of schooling and poor facilities for the players, which contravened the NBA’s ethos and stated aims for the programme. Some players as young as 13 were often left unsupervised when not training, and were not provided with schooling.

“We were somewhat humbled,” Tatum told ESPN. “One of the lessons that we’ve learned here is that we do need to have more direct oversight and the ability to make staffing changes when appropriate.”

The NBA two weeks ago revealed it had terminated its agreement to be part of a training programme in Xinjiang, the controversial province where the Chinese government has sought to crack down on dissent among the Muslim Uighur locals using ‘re-education camps’, amongst other tough methods. US politicians have written to the NBA questioning its commitment to China given this and other American concerns about the country, including about its recent actions in relation to Hong Kong.

Tatum refused to tell ESPN whether the treatment of the Uighurs was the reason for the closure of the Xinjiang training centre, instead saying, “My job, our job is not to take a position on every single human rights violation, and I’m not an expert in every human rights situation or violation.

“I’ll tell you what the NBA stands for: The values of the NBA are about respect, are about inclusion, are about diversity. That is what we stand for.”

The NBA has had a troubled year in China, against a background of increasing political tensions between the country and the US. The 2019-20 season got back underway at the weekend without coverage on Chinese state broadcaster CCTV, which has not shown NBA matches since the controversy over Daryl Morey’s tweet last October in support of anti-government protests in Hong Kong.

The ESPN report included a note that the US media company holds a seat on the board of NBA China. ESPN said it is “a non-voting board observer and owns a small stake” in NBA China. ESPN is also a partner of Tencent, the NBA exclusive digital rights partner in China.