Players in fear of hooligans
Peter Simpson in Hong Kong and Martin Zhou in Beijing
China's stars are playing in fear of their safety during domestic league games because of growing hooliganism among fans, it was revealed yesterday.
In the latest incident, Guangdong Tigers forward Du Feng accused police and the China Basketball Association (CBA) of failing to protect players after he and teammates were pelted with plastic bottles and abused during an away game against Shandong Lions last week. A coach was hit in the face by a water bottle.
'I am very disappointed. You play so hard for fans but they curse you and throw bottles at you. Maybe you ask yourself 'why do I play?'' Du told the China Daily newspaper. 'I understand fans want their home teams to win. The problem is that they have never considered the players' safety and feelings.
'Where are the police and security when we are attacked by fans? I guess the league has certain regulations on what they should do, but definitely they did nothing.'
Last week's crowd trouble follows other incidents of hooliganism courtside over the past three months, the newspaper reported.
The problem will worry sports chiefs who are struggling to stamp out widespread hooliganism at mainland soccer games and improve crowd behaviour before the Olympics in Beijing.
Officials are so sensitive to the issue of crowd trouble that only vague details are released to state-controlled media, long after any incident has occurred.
With more money in their wallets, growing numbers of mainlanders are paying to watch live games and cheer or jeer - the one chance they have to publicly vent their emotions.
Du's appeal exposes concern among both players afraid of being attacked and a government anxious about Beijing 2008 being ruined.
CBA teams, whose fans misbehave have been fined up to 10,000 yuan (US$1,375), but the punishment is inconsistent and arbitrary and seen by some to be too lenient.
'The Chinese Basketball Association has been too soft on this issue,' a commentary in the Shenyang Evening News claimed.
Behaviour classes were the way forward, argued the CBA. 'We will try to find more ways to educate our players and fans in the New Year,' the director of the CBA's managing office, Hao Guohua, said.
'We have worked for more than 10 years to make the CBA a better league ... so we cannot let its image get destroyed by such problems.'