Catfight between China and Japan over basketball player

Citizenship is always an issue in China, or more specifically, changing your citizenship. For one thing, you tend to need a lot of money. Chinese movie stars have taken up residence in other countries and faced accusations of being a traitor, but crossing borders in the sports world can be even more controversial.

ImageChinese basketball player Li Mingyang has been causing a bit of a stir this week. The former national youth team player got injured in 2010 and went to Japan for treatment. She’s now emerged – healthy again – as Miyuki Sugiyama, and plays for Chanson V-Magic [please post in the comments if you know what the V stands for!] in the Japanese league.


It’s ok, of course, in a sport like table tennis or badminton, where China has so many top players that it’s happy to export some of them so that its own national team has some decent competition every once in a while. Conversely, in some of the smaller sports, China has been known to naturalize citizens of other countries to boost its own teams (though good luck trying to get a Chinese passport any other way). At other times, China has given players to another country, and then decided it wants them back.

But when a genuine national team prospect chooses to take his or her game elsewhere, then cue the “defection / desertion / traitor” headlines in the papers and online. The current youth national team coach Li Xin wrote on her microblog that:

“No matter if she has a Chinese or Japanese name, she will be spurned by everybody who loves Chinese basketball [or China, she didn’t add] for her unpatriotic behavior.”

Behind the nationalistic rhetoric, a few calmer heads have blamed the fact that the WCBA lacks money, structure and post-career prospects, leaving “defection” as an attractive option. Three other Chinese players have left the WCBA for Japan since 2008, though none as well known as Li/Sugiyama, but there’s nothing like a good old territorial dispute to raise the stakes when it comes to China and Japan.

ImageThis blog has already discussed how Chinese tennis very much has the advantage over its Japanese counterparts, but that Japan had been hitting back in table tennis, of all sports. Now it looks like the basketball world may just have given Japan the edge again…

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