Free athletes to make money: official

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 05 February, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 05 February, 2005, 12:00am

Liu Peng says management needs reform, after the Tian Liang sponsorship row

The mainland's new sports chief has vowed to improve management to make the sector more self-sufficient and reflect the modern sporting world's commercial realities.

Sports Minister Liu Peng , who was named chairman of the Chinese Olympic Committee on Thursday, said new management models were needed because of the evolution of the country's sports sector.

'We need to be innovative ... and instil new notions and new management measures into the existing system ... in order to cope with new circumstances, new changes and new needs,' said Mr Liu at a national conference for regional sports directors in Beijing on Thursday.

Sources said Mr Liu's speech sent out a message that the road ahead for sports in China leads to full professionalism.

Mr Liu's call for better management came after the recent Tian Liang furore, which saw the Olympic diving gold medallist kicked off the national team for engaging in unauthorised commercial activities.

Sources in the State Sports General Administration (SSGA) said Mr Liu's speech underscored the urgency of reforming the country's sports programme, most of which was still supervised by rules laid out in the 1995 China Sports Law.

Though not expressly stated, according to the spirit of the 1995 law, athletes are considered state property, since their training is entirely funded by provincial or national teams. As a result, the national or provincial sports authorities have an almost undisputed right to monitor them, including their commercial activities and even private life, a source said.

That might have worked 10 years ago, when the country's sporting market had just started to open up and Chinese athletes were not yet fully aware of their commercial potential.

'There would not have been so many sponsors trying to grab a piece of a Tian Liang in 1995,' the source said.

'This straitjacket, blanket way of management is way out of date and has to change and adapt to the complicated realities in the modern sporting world.'

In his remarks on reform, Mr Liu also talked about striking a fine balance between overall control of the top administration and operation of the sporting market.

This would mean gradually allowing the sports administration to withdraw from the everyday decision-making processes, sources said. 'The intention is that the SSGA should act like a 'behind-the-scenes' boss, not meddling in everything but overseeing the whole picture,' the source said.

Eventually, national teams would be brought together only when there was an international event or tournament in which they were to compete. The rest of the time, athletes would be available for hire by clubs, including those overseas.