Olympic swimming champions Sun Yang and Ye Shiwen shake hands with people in Hong Kong during a parade of the nation's Olympic gold medal winners last week. Olympic success can lead to lucrative deals from sponsors and rewards from local governments for Chinese athletes. Lu Binghui / Xinhua
China's star athletes rake in the rewards for claiming gold in London, Tang Zhe reports.
China's Olympic champions have become the target of marketing agencies after their successes at the London Olympics. Creating connections with sporting stars has turned out to be a popular channel for companies to promote their brands; especially real estate companies.
(From left to right) Olympic champions Sun Yang, Chen Yibing and He Zi attend a celebration party, organized by sponsors and the Nanjing Youth Olympic Games Organizing Committee on Aug 19 in Nanjing, Jiangsu province. Yang Duoduo / For China Daily
Chinese swimmers Sun Yang and Ye Shiwen both received apartments worth 3 million yuan ($473,000) from a company in their hometown of Hangzhou.
Table tennis player Zhang Jike, from Qingdao, Shandong province, was given a 120-sq m apartment with a sea view in that coastal city.
Li Xuerui, who was the women's singles badminton champion in London, will move out of the 50-sq m house she shared with her parents and move into a 100-sq m abode supplied by a real estate company in Chongqing.
Almost all the houses given to the champions are regarded as promotional tools for the companies, which have enjoyed considerable exposure. Some have labeled "being neighbor of Olympic champions" in their advertisements.
However, experts say the Olympic stars should be cautious about choosing their sponsors.
"Some houses given to the champions are still under construction. Take Zhang as an example, his house will be completed in 2014 and the purpose of the bestowal is to make advertising," said Xiao Shuhong, a professor of sports economy and industry at Beijing Sport University.
"The commercial value of athletes have been dramatically increased after their Olympic wins, and they should not sign sponsorships so easily as the value of some brands could not match (their achievements)," she said.
China won 38 gold medals, 27 silver and 23 bronze at the London Olympic Games to finish second behind the United States.
Some Chinese Olympic champions have found themselves facing a gold mine of sponsorships and endorsements.
Hurdler Liu Xiang became a favorite of advertising agencies after winning the 110m hurdles at the Athens Games in 2004. It was reported his total income from sponsorships amounted to 461 million yuan in 2005.
"Any commercial operation should assess the value of contracts ahead (of time)", Xiao said.
"The market value of sports stars is huge in developed countries, such as the US, and athletes have professional agents operating commercial activities for them," she said.
"The administrative centers of the sports' authorities in our country are taking care of the athletes' commercial campaigns. This industry started late in China and we are still short of mature sports agents."
Besides commercial endorsements, Olympic champions are also getting an increasing amount of prize money from central and local authorities.
Athough the General Administration of Sport is yet to announce its awards plans for Olympic champions, others cannot wait to offer their support to the London heroes.
Athletes from Guangdong province won seven gold, six silver and three bronze medals in London, and also broke an Olympic record. It was the best result for the southern province at an Olympic Games held abroad. Each champion was given 5 million yuan and a car worth 650,000 yuan on Aug 20.
According to Yin Baolin, director of the Jiangsu sports bureau, it has been proposed that the provincial government award a gold medalist 600,000 yuan, with 350,000 yuan for silver and 200,000 for bronze.
Apart from that, medalists from Nantong, Suzhou and Yancheng, cities of Jiangsu province, have already received incentives from local governments. Nantong diver Chen Ruolin was awarded 1.2 million yuan for winning two gold medals.
During a visit to Hong Kong and Macao from Aug 24-28, the Olympic champions also claimed HK$25.2 million ($3.2 million) from Hong Kong entrepreneurs, and HK$10.2 million from the government of the Macao Special Administrative Region.
China began rewarding Olympic stars in 1984 when it participated at the Olympic Games for the first time after regaining its seat on the International Olympic Committee in 1979.
Each gold medalist was rewarded 6,000 yuan by the central sports authority, at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics.
The bonus rose to 15,000 yuan at the Seoul Games in 1988 and rose further before reaching 200,000 yuan at the Athens Olympics in 2004.
The sports authority didn't publicize the amount for the 2008 Beijing Games, but many believe the amount was much larger.
The increasingly lucrative incentives are widely regarded as local governments' showing off their political achievements.
The Hangzhou sports bureau provoked some controversy by planning to build statues for swimmers Sun and Ye. Zhao Furong, head of Hangzhou's sports bureau, responded that it is a tradition in the city, and it has already built statues for four former local Olympic champions.
"The number of Olympic gold medals won by local athletes is an important evaluation of the work of local sports authorities. Athletes help the government realize their accomplishments and are rewarded," Xiao said.
"The swimmers did create noble results at the Olympics, which is not easy," she said. "We have to recognize the athletes' efforts and achievements, and building statues could be an incentive for other athletes."