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China Digest | President Xi accelerates plans to build China's sporting strength

China Digest | President Xi accelerates plans to build China's sporting strength

By: Mark Dreyer

President Xi put an emphasis on fitness-for-all programmes (Getty Images)
24 Oct 2017
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Weekly round-up of sports business news from the Chinese sports industry.

President Xi hails sports development at Party Congress 

As mentioned last week, China has been gripped by – or, more precisely, directed towards – the 19th Party Congress, with every single channel available broadcasting President Xi Jinping’s opening speech in its 3.5-hour entirety.

While much of Xi’s report was vague and theoretical, he did mention sports in passing on two occasions, referencing the fact that “fitness-for-all programmes and competitive sports have seen extensive development”, while later vowing to “carry out extensive fitness-for-all programmes, speed up efforts to build China into a country strong on sports and make smooth preparations for the 2022 Winter Olympics and Paralympics.”

It’s not groundbreaking stuff, but such is Xi’s power these days that everyone hangs on his every word, looking for the faintest clues of future direction.

In summary, Xi has plenty of other more important things on his plate, but there’s nothing to suggest a change to the country’s drive to build the largest sports economy in the world.

Questions over historic doping allegations

Wada says it will investigate allegations of Chinese doping from the 1980s and 1990s after German TV channel ARD aired an interview with Xue Yinxian, a former doctor for several Chinese national teams, who said that more than 10,000 athletes – including some as young as 11 – were involved in a state-backed doping programme.

There are two things to note here: firstly, while these claims have prompted a reaction from Wada, they are nothing new, bar a few added details.

Regular readers of the China Digest will recall an article from last month, which made very similar claims and itself cited an interview with Xue from more than five years ago, in which she first blew the whistle on China’s doping past.

Secondly, Wada has effectively already washed its hands of the matter, saying that these offences happened years before it even existed as a body, but you wonder why it has taken them five years to say so.

New playoffs schedule for basketball

The new-look Chinese Basketball Association (CBA) gets back underway this week, with a revamped sponsor line-up off the court and new rules on it that include an enlarged playoff entry from eight to 10 teams.

There will be an instant replay option for key regular season games and all playoff fixtures, as well as a new league for reserve teams.

With Yao Ming at the helm, the sense is that the CBA is now being run in a way that’s closer to that of the NBA, though the former NBA centre has resigned from his position as owner of the Shanghai Sharks – reportedly selling to Juss Event, the company that also runs the city’s Formula 1 race and ATP Shanghai Masters – to avoid a conflict of interest.

Any disappointment at that decision, however, will likely have been offset by the news that his stake in a digital entertainment system solution services provider tripled on the day of its IPO.

Basketball star Marbury buys arena football team

Meanwhile, as China’s Zhou Qi made a solid, if unspectacular, NBA debut for the Houston Rockets over the weekend – putting him firmly on the radar of sponsors worldwide – another man central to China’s basketball landscape was making headlines back at home.

Beijing’s favourite foreign resident, Stephon Marbury, who’s won three CBA titles with the Beijing Ducks and has a statue in his honour, but is now playing for crosstown rivals the Beijing Fly Dragons, has purchased another Beijing team – the Lions – who are part of the China Arena Football League (CAFL). 

The indoor American football team was valued by the league, which launched its six-team competition in China last year, at $5m (€4.3m). But with Marbury effectively now the league’s most visible brand ambassador and also taking up a seat on the CAFL board, he likely acquired the team at a steep discount.

CAFL chairman Marty Judge, who made the announcement in Shanghai last Friday, says he is also in discussions with Michael Jordan’s agent and Cooper Manning – brother of Peyton and Eli – about further franchise acquisitions.

Desports to act for Fifa 

Chinese sports and entertainment firm Desports has won the rights to be the exclusive agent for new Fifa sponsorships in Asia for the 2018 World Cup.

The firm, whose parent company is DDMC, will be responsible for soliciting bids from companies wishing to be “regional sponsors” – the lowest of Fifa’s three sponsorship tiers – for next year’s tournament in Russia, of which up to three will be selected.

However, as Caixin makes clear, “Given that there already have been three Chinese companies chosen as Fifa sponsors – none of which is affiliated with Desports – it is unclear whether the DDMC project will be attractive to bidders.”

Orient Hontai takes stake in LaLiga partner 

Reuters reports that China’s Orient Hontai has agreed to buy a majority stake in Spanish sports rights group Imagina – which holds the media distribution for La Liga – for $1bn.

Imagina founder and chairman Jaume Roures confirmed that the Chinese private equity firm aims to purchase a 54% stake in the company, and plans to close early next year.

However, the deal is far from complete with Roures adding it must still be authorised by the Chinese government, which has looked to crack down on overseas acquisitions in recent months.

Amazon linked to Taiwanese firms

Bloomberg says Amazon is venturing into private-label sportswear, using two Taiwanese vendors, including one that produces clothing for Gap and Uniqlo.

The report says Taiwan’s Makalot Industrial Co. and Eclat Textile Co. are both involved in the manufacturing effort, although the process is still in the trial stage and long-term contracts have yet to be signed.

Also this week…

Further reading…

The China Digest is written by Mark Dreyer, who runs the China Sports Insider website, which features sports business news and analysis related to China’s fast-growing sports industry. He has worked for Sky Sports, Fox Sports, AP Sports and many others, and has covered major sporting events on five continents, including three Olympic Games. He has been based in China since 2007.

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