Cheating team kicked out of China play-offs
Beleaguered Chinese Basketball Association (CBA) chiefs earned some much-needed respect from fans yesterday after they booted title contenders Xinjiang Guanghui out of the play-offs for cheating.
An investigation found the club fielded an ineligible foreigner, Vietnamese-American Song Cun-Sou, who played under a false name and fake ID papers to skirt rules barring clubs from fielding more than two foreign stars.
League officials stripped the club of 15 points to end their championship dream and said they would pass their findings over to police for a criminal probe.
Song played under the false Chinese name Guan Xiuchang, claiming to come from Heilongjiang province - lies the club benefited from as they chased glory after years struggling at the bottom of the league, the CBA found.
However, the club maintained their innocence, and the CBA stopped short of meting out punishment that would had seen the side banned for a year.
'We don't have evidence that proves Xinjiang Guanghui [were] involved in the cheating or helped Song make the fake identity ... [to enable us to issue] the utmost punishment,' said CBA deputy chief Wang Du.
Instead, the CBA stripped the points from the 18 games in which Song played, leaving the side in 11th place.
After the verdict, club owner Hou Wei remained defiant and denied any wrongdoing.
But he did offer devastated fans an apology. 'I am really sorry for letting our fans down. I hope they can understand us and support us in the future,' he said.
Only a test of fan loyalty remains of Xinjiang's best season on record, one that saw them finish second thanks to the arrival of star big man Menk Bateer and US import David Jackson.
Song, seemingly a home-grown talent, also proved central to the team's success. With the man from Heilongjiang on court, the team recorded 15 wins and just three losses.
Then last month it was revealed Song carried two US passports.
Under media pressure, the club handed over more allegedly fake papers claiming Song hailed from Macau.
In another twist, the league office revealed Song had played briefly for Yunnan Honghe during the 2004-05 season under the Chinese name of Ma Xiuchang.
The China Daily claimed Song returned to the US on December 26 after his true identity began to turn into a crisis for both him and his clubs - Yunnan are now also facing punishment.
Mainland sports media continue to query Xinjiang's involvement, claiming officials refused to explain how they failed to be alerted to a native player who claimed to be from Heilongjiang but could not speak a word of Chinese.
The CBA earned some respect for punishing the club, with nearly 85 per cent of fans applauding the action, according to a poll by Sina.com.