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Goodwill and great hoops

By Shi Futian in Shanghai | China Daily | Updated: 2017-11-14 07:30

Goodwill and great hoops

A UCLA player holds off a Georgia Tech rival during Saturday's Pac-12 China Game at Baoshan Sports Center in Shanghai. It marked the third straight year the 12-team US collegiate league has held its season-opener in China, with the California college winning 63-60. [Photo/Xinhua]

Pac-12 Shanghai showcase a slam dunk for US-China relations

US President Donald Trump wasn't the only American nurturing ties with China last week.

NCAA basketball powerhouses the UCLA Bruins and Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets lit up Shanghai on Saturday as the Pac-12 Conference staged its regular-season opener here for the third straight year.

Larry Scott, Pac-12 commissioner, compared the link-up to the ping-pong diplomacy of the early 1970s, when the countries exchanged table tennis players to herald a thaw in Sino-US relations.

"I think there is a long history of sports playing an important role in terms of the exchange between our two countries," said Scott.

"Just think of the ping-pong diplomacy many years ago. And there are many other examples of peaceful and friendly exchanges.

"Sports, art, culture and business build understanding and friendship between our two countries."

UCLA won 63-60 at Baoshan Sports Center, following wins for Stanford over Harvard last year and Washington over Texas in 2015.

Presented by China's Alibaba Group and organized in conjunction with the Federation of University Sports of China (FUSC), the latest edition of the Pac-12 China Game marked the 10th league-sponsored team trip here since 2013.

The initiative also includes educational residency for Chinese coaches with conference institutions and goodwill tours of the US by Chinese university sports teams.

The Pac-12 features a dozen of the leading US universities, and the conference website heralds the showcase as serving as "a platform to foster goodwill between the China and the US".

On the eve of the game, the third annual China-US University Sports & Education Summit took place in Shanghai, with Chinese kung fu star Jet Li displaying photos of his childhood visit to the US as a member of China's national team.

"I enjoyed listening to Jet Li in the summit meeting and seeing his pictures when he was a kid greeting Henry Kissinger, who was the secretary of state," said Scott.

"It reminded me of the fact that, over many, many years, the US and China have been using sports for friendly exchange."

Scott also connected President Trump's visit with the overall aim of the universities' trip.

"For the past decade, formal people-to-people exchanges have really encouraged us," he said.

"The Pac-12 China Game and this summit are all about our people, students and leaders from universities learning from each other to experience new cultures and to reinforce the friendship and goodwill between our two countries."

Xue Yanqing, vice-president and secretary general of the FUSC, also hailed the partnership.

Xue noted the China-US High-Level People-To-People Exchange program has yielded many successful ventures between the Pac-12 and FUSC, including a series of training programs in other sports.

"Since the establishment of cultural communication between China and the US, the two countries have been gaining sustainable achievements in the field of education, culture, sports and youth communication," said Xue.

"The FUSC and Pac-12 have developed a strategic partnership and have been continuously cooperating. For the last few years, together we have successfully launched many university sporting activities that have deepened the cultural and educational exchanges between the two countries."

Retired NBA legend Bill Walton, one of UCLA's most revered alumni, hailed the China Game as life-changing.

"This will change the lives of our young student athletes, our American kids," Walton, who played for the Bruins in the early 1970s, said at the pregame media conference.

"They are going to go home and tell the world how great it was to visit China.

"And all the people here in China are able to see these fantastic young athletes who are chasing their dreams. They are going to say 'Hey, I can do that too.' So they are going to go out and take the sport to the next level."

At Friday's summit, Walton enthused: "Let's play, let's go, let's learn, let's think, and at the end of the day we will celebrate the greatness of intercollegiate athletics and this phenomenal cultural, educational, academic, historic and human relationship between two great cultures."

Alibaba's 'A' game

Earlier last week, Alibaba's top brass hosted the two teams and delegations from each university at its headquarters in Hangzhou for high-level meetings and an academic symposium on Chinese culture and business, including the future of e-commerce.

"After two consecutive years of successful games in China, the Pac-12 China Game has generated plenty of fanfare," said Zhang Dazhong, Alisports CEO.

"The Alibaba Group and the Pac-12 Conference have the same concept in mind, which is that the pursuit of excellence in sports is a critical aspect of one's education.

"This year, the Alibaba Group and the Pac-12 Conference expanded their partnership to continue to encourage more Chinese youth to improve physically and culturally through sports. We look forward to making an increasing positive contribution to the Pac-12 and collegiate athletics."

The University of California, Berkeley and Yale University will meet in the fourth edition of the Pac-12 China Game next year.

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