After a breathless few weeks during which the entire sporting world has been talking about Chinese football (with yours truly quoted by AFP three times, FT twice, El Pais, Hicimos, Vice Sports and interviewed by CCTV, BBC and Al Jazeera among others), let’s take a look at a few stories that could be cropping up over the next 12 months…
Headlines last week left readers with little doubt about the state of golf in China:
- “Golf banned for China’s Party members” (CNN)
- “Communist party commands its 88 million members to abstain from playing golf” (Guardian sub-heading)
- “To fight corruption, China officially bans golf for party cadres” (Washington Post)
- “China just banned 88 million people joining golf clubs” (USA Today)
- “Communist Party bans club membership” (BBC)
- “China tees off against golf, gluttony in anti-graft drive” (Reuters)
- “Stocks, Sex and Golf: China’s Ruling Party Targets Temptations” (Bloomberg)
Pretty clear, right? Well, actually, no. As this article from shougolf.com points out [in Chinese], it turns out that the Washington Post and the BBC (its two main targets) and others jumped the gun somewhat on their “China bans golf/golf club memberships” headlines.
Hands up if you can spot the apparent contradiction with these two recent headlines:
Lots happened last year – Li Na retired, Sun Yang tested positive, and Chinese soccer continued to suck – but what awaits in 2015? 10 questions for you below…
1. How will China fare at the Asian Cup?
We’ll start with the most pressing questions because China kicks off its Asian Cup campaign on Saturday. Group B – China, Uzbekistan, Saudi Arabia and North Korea – is a Group of Death only in terms of capital punishment. Alain Perrin has lost just once in 11 games since taking charge last February, but if China fails to progress into the knockout stages, the knives will be sharpened. The days of China finishing 2nd (twice), 3rd (twice) and 4th (twice) in the Asian Cup seem a distant memory, but this tournament will show how much progress has been made under Perrin.
2. Will Zhang Xizhe ever play substantial minutes?
One player who is not in Perrin’s squad is Wolfsburg’s new recruit Zhang Xizhe. The Volkswagen-owned club has already scored a victory following their low-risk, 1.5 million euro signing, with the VW logo on Zhang’s jersey beamed all over China just from a few training sessions. Cynics say that this was precisely the point of the transfer, and the only way to prove them wrong will be if Zhang sees substantial minutes on the pitch – but it won’t be easy to break into a side that currently sits second in the Bundesliga.
3. Who will replace Li Na?
Remarkably, it was less than a year ago when Li Na won her second major title at the Australian Open, but her retirement offers a huge opportunity to whoever is ready to take over at the top of Chinese tennis. Peng Shuai (22), Zhang Shuai (61) and Zheng Jie (95) are the three Chinese players currently in the Top 100, but with another seven in the Top 200, plus youngsters like Youth Olympics singles champ Xu Shilin waiting in the wings, it’s a question of when – not if – we see the next Top 10 player. The men not so much…
4. Which city will be awarded the 2022 Winter Olympics?
Just Beijing and Almaty are left in the running, with the result due to be announced on July 31. Almaty is a stronger bid than it’s given credit for, but Beijing remains a firm favorite in this two-horse race. Sub-question: will the Games clash with the 2022 World Cup?
5. When will Stephon Marbury make the jump into coaching full-time?
He’s made no secret of the fact he wants to coach in China and has already taken up some coaching roles, while continuing to lead on the court. But Marbury turns 38 in a few weeks and can’t play on forever, even though his contract will keep him in the capital until 2017. He’s been named both an honorary and a model citizen of Beijing, so he would seem the perfect role model to lead the Ducks in a more official capacity.
6. Who will be the next major winner from China?
While the tennis scene is looking healthy, it’s more likely China’s next major winner will be a golfer. 25-year-old Feng Shanshan has already won the 2012 LPGA Championship, but watch for teenagers Cindy Feng Yueer, Janet Lin Xiyu and Feng Simin to soar up the world rankings now that they will all be on the LPGA Tour this year.
7. Which male golfer will emerge from the pack?
Guan Tianlang made global headlines by making the cut at the Masters as a 14-year-old in 2013. He may well go onto to have a stellar career, along with a whole crop of other promising Chinese teenagers, but 19-year-old Li Haotong is leading the way at the moment. He won three of the final four PGA Tour China tournaments to top the order of merit and earn a card for the Web.com Tour. Keep an eye on him this year.
8. Can Ding Junhui win the World Champs?
While golfers and tennis players have four majors to contest each year, for snooker players it’s all about the World Championships. Ding Junhui set records on his way to becoming world number 1 last year, but until he can win the big prize, he won’t truly have fulfilled his potential. Chinese sports fans will be glued to their TVs in April to see if he can do it.
9. Will Sun Yang remain China’s dominant swimming star?
2014 was not a good year for Sun Yang after testing positive for a banned substance and then appearing to be involved in the mother of all cover-ups. Note I said appearing, because whatever CHINADA and WADA said, it did not look at all good for China’s top sporting star. He has talent to burn, but was overshadowed in the pool by both Ning Zetao and Chen Duo who each won more golds (4) at the Asian Games than Sun (3). Rio in 18 months will still be the main yardstick, though.
10. Will China ever take to boxing?
Listen to boxing promoters (and, unfortunately, western journalists all too happy to print without fact-checking) and you would think that literally hundreds of millions of Chinese sports fans avidly tune in to watch two-time Olympic champ Zou Shiming knock down a series of tomato cans. The truth is more like two million (at a push). This year, though, he will finally fight for a world title, so the stakes will be real for the first time. If he wins, will the sport take off? I’m less and less convinced…
What would you like to see happen in 2015? Feel free to leave your questions or predictions in the comments section below.
The HSBC Champions teed off in Shanghai on Thursday and, despite attracting 40 of the world’s top 50 golfers, the Chinese won’t be paying much attention. That’s because there’s no Tiger Woods and no Rory McIlroy.
Tiger has an excuse – he’s been injured and hasn’t played since August – but Rory? Officially, he’s preparing for a court case 4-6 months from now. Unofficially, he’s tired after a long season, China is a long way away, he’s still likely to win the big end of season climax without playing here, he won’t make as much money as last year, or perhaps a little of everything. Whatever the truth, it doesn’t reflect too well on McIlroy – and it hurts Chinese golf too. This week’s Sports Talk column is below: Continue reading Rory’s China snub does double damage
The Chinese are getting up in their millions to watch the World Cup, and as expected Brazilian Neymar is becoming one of the main stories (this piece on Neymar’s China’s strategy is worth another look). But other things are happening too. Here’s a selection of interesting stories from the past few days (the first two of which feature some special China Sports Insider insight!).
This is exactly what the PGA Tour – and Nike – would have hoped for when it launched its China Series earlier this year. 27-year-old Shanxi native Zhang Xinjun, who signed with Nike almost exactly a year ago alongside 19-year-old Li Haotong, finally won a tournament after a succession of near misses. He now leads the overall standings in the race to win one of five spots for next year’s US-based Web.com Tour, itself the feeder of the PGA Tour.
Remember the Chinese American kids who won at Augusta last month? One of them – 11-year-old Lucy Li – has just qualified for the US Women’s Open at Pinehurst and will become the youngest ever qualifier to play in the June 19-22 tournament, beating Lexi Thompson’s record (who was 12 in 2007). What’s more, Li wants to play for Hong Kong, where her family is from.
According to the SCMP, Li was born in Santa Clara, lives in Redwood Shores, California, and holds a US passport, but her mother has a Hong Kong identity card and “the family has told [Hong Kong national team coach Brad] Schadewitz she wants to play for Hong Kong.” Continue reading World’s new golfing prodigy “wants to play for Hong Kong”