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Yao calls better sports leagues key to nation's 'quest'

By Sun Xiaochen | China Daily | Updated: 2017-03-11 04:55

Political adviser Yao Ming urged the country to shift its sports focus from winning medals to cultivating a mature professional league system as China vows to become a strong sporting nation.

Noting the National Basketball Association's contribution to the game's athletic and commercial success in the United States, Yao, a member of China's top political advisory body, has suggested that the country should upgrade its own professional league system by optimizing management and improving commercial operations.

"To build a strong sporting nation is not just about winning gold medals, but also developing mass fitness, sports industry and sports culture comprehensively. The sound operation of professional sports leagues is at the center of the quest," Yao said during a speech at the Great Hall of the People on Friday.

Since joining the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference in 2013, Yao has leveraged his influence to push sports reform in China by offering proposals in multiple areas including physical education, event organization and stadium operation.

Since being elected in February as the new chairman of the Chinese Basketball Association, Yao has been tasked with attracting attention, investment and policy support to develop the CBA into a full-fledged professional league.

"Successful pro sports leagues benefit a country's sporting prowess in athletic competence, youth talent cultivation, commercial revenue and media as well as advertisement. Our leagues are lagging behind those in Europe and the United States," Yao said.

Among China's sports leagues, the Chinese Super League of soccer and CBA are the two highest-profile organizations, with media exposure, investments and stadium attendance, but they are still not near their overseas equivalents, such as the English Premier League and NBA, according to experts.

"The sports entertainment business based on the four major professional leagues led by the NBA contributes greatly to the overall revenue of the sports industry in the US. We still have a long way to go to grow our own leagues," said Ma Jilong, a CPPCC member and sports industry researcher.

To develop into a world-class competitor in soccer by 2050, China issued a long-term plan in 2015 to boost the game's professional development, which has seen a surge in the CSL's financial value. The league's broadcasting rights from 2016-20 sold for 8 billion yuan ($1.16 billion) in 2015 before 16 CSL clubs spent about $410 million signing foreign players during the 2016-17 winter transfer window.

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