Shaolin Temple denies investing in soccer academy
Shaolin Temple, the birthplace of Chinese martial arts, denied involvement on Monday in a two billion yuan (HK$2.53 billion) effort to create a new generation of Chinese soccer players armed with its ancient skills.
China’s most prominent kung fu temple said in a statement published in the Guangzhou Daily that it had “never sent monks to teach” soccer at an academy carrying its name.
A kung fu training camp, named Shaolin Monk Training, based some 10 kilometres from the temple, announced last week that it would set up a Shaolin soccer academy in Dengfeng, Henan province, sparking a national debate about excessive commercialisation of its traditions.
Combining soccer with kung fu is controversial. In 2001, censors had temporarily delayed the Hong Kong comedy movie Shaolin Soccer's screening on mainland silver screens, arguing that associating the millennial Buddhist practice with the Western sport in the film’s title could be considered offensive.
Likewise on Monday, some, such as the Communist Party’s Guangming Daily, accused Shaolin Temple of abusing its position as the guardian of a national treasure to maximise profit. But others, including broadcaster Zhengzhou TV, said the move could give hope to the desolate state of Chinese soccer.
The temple was not involved “by even half a mao” (HK$0.06) with the training base, the statement said on Monday. The soccer academy was one of many attempts to “swindle money, hurt the people, disturb social order and seriously damage Shaolin Temple’s reputation”, it read, comparing the soccer project to “advertising lamb but selling dog meat”.
Shaolin Temple has had to routinely fend off allegations of abusing its 1,500-year-old legacy for material gains. Its current abbot, Shi Yongxin, often dubbed the CEO monk, had to backtrack on plans to raise one billion yuan by listing the temple on a stock exchange in 2009 after fierce public criticism.
The training base, along with the Henan Jianye Football Club, will invest two billion yuan to construct the school, a stadium and two gyms, Zhang Songxian, a project manager told the South China Morning Post.
Construction of the school is scheduled to begin early next year and last until 2017, Zhang said. The base, which has had a soccer team since 2010, plans to take up to 8,000 disciples with its new facilities.
Zhang emphasised that the training camp had no financial links to Shaolin Temple. He dismissed allegations of illicitly using the temple’s name, saying that the school would make kung fu even more popular and bring China’s unique characteristics to soccer.
“In a few years we might look into rugby,” he said.