China’s Olympic stars told to cut sponsorship work
BEIJING –– China’s sports ministry Thursday warned its sports stars to drop lucrative sponsorship work that could interfere with their preparations for the 2008 Olympics.
“If athletes take part in too many commercial activities it will harm their preparations,” Zhou Jing, director of the ministry’s press division, told AFP Thursday.
His comment followed a China Daily report Wednesday quoting a speech from Sports Minister Liu Peng, who said: “All the athletes, including those big stars, are forbidden to take part in all kinds of social activities to avoid distractions from training.”
The minister was referring to commercial endorsement work that risked distracting athletes from training, Zhou said. Liu reportedly said exceptions could be considered if individuals sought permission in advance directly from the sports ministry.
The ban underlines China’s determination to do well in the medal standings at their first host Olympics in Beijing in 2008. State media reports said Chinese sports administrators were determined that China eclipse the United States for the first time as the world’s top sporting power, after finishing second at the Athens Olympics in 2004.
“We face a very stern test at the 2008 Olympics,” Liu was quoted as saying. “Everybody should stay focused.” China’s top sports stars like Yao Ming, the NBA basketball player, and Liu Xiang, the Olympic champion 110m hurdler, earn millions of dollars a year in commercial endorsements. Liu has lucrative sponsorship deals ranging from food products and banking to one of China’s top cigarette manufacturers, netting him more than three million dollars in extra cash last year.
Wei Jizhong, former secretary general of China’s Olympic Committee, singled out Liu for criticism in an interview with the Beijing News, published Thursday.
“Liu’s commercial endorsements create a negative influence,” he was quoted as saying.
Evaluating China’s competitive standards ahead of the Olympics, Sports Minister Liu was reported as saying China remained strong in disciplines in which it had a tradition of excellence. But he was worried that the rest of the world was narrowing the gap and in some sports it had almost disappeared.
More worrying still, he said, China was slipping in team ball games, an area which had earned the country success in the past. He also noted that the gap with the top international level was still wide in athletics and swimming.
On a more upbeat note, he said China was making progress in other disciplines such as boxing and water sports, where it had no tradition of dominance, although he cautioned that such progress had yet to be consolidated. –– AFP