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Struck by State-ownership, Shanghai Sharks Is Struggling without Sponsor

Two players in Guangdong Southern Tigers (广东宏远) and three in Shandong Lions (山东黄金) were fined and suspended by CBA last week for a brawl in their quarter-final playoff match. Guangdong, the defending champion, was barely touched by the punishment and extended their winning streak to 25 games after defeating Dongguan Leopards (东莞马可波罗) by 111 – 103 in their first semi-final match on Sunday. Everyone’s happy in the in-form Guangdong side, even the two young players who were supposed to be put on the bench be there’s a suspension or not. The two were fined RMB 70,000 ($ 10,239 USD) in all. This may not be a small sum for bench players, but their financial situation is head and shoulders above veterans like Liu Wei (刘炜) in the Shanghai team.

Shanghai Sharks (上海大鲨鱼), the CBA team that developed the country’s most famous player Yao Ming, is now struggling after Xiyang Group (西洋集团), their only sponsor, pulled back from its five-year sponsorship plan. The Liaoning-based fertilizer manufacturer has been supporting Shanghai basketball since 2007 with 15 million RMB ($ 2.2 mln USD) injection a year into both of its women’s and men’s teams. While the company pays all the bills, the club is co-owned by Shanghai Sports Bureau and Shanghai Media Group, a state-owned media company.

Last November, Cong Xuedi, head coach of Shanghai Women’s Basketball Team, secretively allowed five of their first-team players to play for East China Normal University(华东师范大学) in the 7th National University Games after the club turned down the university request to borrow their players, a common practice for almost all universities that participated in the Games. Xiyang Group decided to fire Cong for disobeying their authority. But the coach was saved by Shanghai Technical Sports Institute (STSI, 上海体育职业学院,) a school under Shanghai Sports Bureau, as they hoped the women’s team can perform better in this year’s National Games under the coaching of her.

“It’s agreed that we’re responsible for managing the club,” Wang Bo, Xiyang’s representitive in Shanghai, told press last November, “things have been running on the contrary so far. We’ve talked with STSI and may stop sponsoring the team should the coach is kept at her post.” They did. And so with the men’s team after the regular season ended this March. A lowest paid player that used to make 10,000 RMB ($ 1,500 USD) a month at the Sharks can now receive only about 1,500 RMB ($ 220 USD) from the local sports bureau. It’s reportedly that some of the players can’t even pay their mortgage. “The reason we quited is that we don’t have the club ownership and managing right,” Qiu Guangchun, vice president of Xiwang Group told a Shanghai paper, “they should know why we quited.”

“CBA is not a professional league,” said Yang Yi, deputy editor-in-chief of Titan Sports to China Sports Review, “You wound’t expect to have a team like Bayi Rockets (八一火箭) in a professional league[CSR: the Bayi Rockets are an army team and is the only team with no foreign players in CBA.] Teams in a pro league should first be privately-held. CBA belongs to the government and it’s at most a half-professional league. And at least four CBA teams belong to local sports bureaus.”

“Xiyang’s withdrawal has nothing to do with the economic crisis. Shanghai Sharks is governed by the local sports bureau. The team had been neglected [by the sports bueau guys] since Yao Ming left for NBA. The leaders at the bureau turned their focus to volleyball as they thought the basketball team had no chance of winning the title without Yao,” Yang noted, “It’s not because of Shanghai’s team was bad or had no promising young players. The sport just lost their attention there. And to the sports bureau leaders, a businessman has only the right to sponsor the team but not to make any decision.”

Xiyang left Shanghai. But they’re planning on a comeback in Anshan, Liaoning Province. The Anshan Xiyang Basketball Club (鞍山西洋男篮) was established in 2006 and has been playing in NBL, the secondary league to CBA, for two seasons. The team recruited some good players from Shanghai Sharks’ youth team in 2007 and Xiyang hoped it can be promoted into CBA one day. “Eighteen teams are already too many for CBA,” said Yang, “I don’t think there will be any addition to the league. Rather, the basketball association might consider to cut some teams off.”

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