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China: Around The Nation

Meet the ex-baseball star coaching disadvantaged Chinese children

Sun Lingfeng sank all his savings into setting up his training centre. His efforts have now been recognised with a sponsorship deal, Chinese media report

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 01 February, 2018, 12:31pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 01 February, 2018, 2:53pm

A former Chinese national baseball player’s programme to coach and provide an education for left-behind children and orphans from across China has touched people’s hearts – and won him sponsorship from a Chinese conglomerate, according to media reports.

Sun Lingfeng has been running his baseball coaching programme on the outskirts of Beijing since 2016, taking in left-behind children, orphans and other youngsters from disadvantaged, low-income families around the nation.

Left-behind children is the term used in China to describe youngsters, often from poor families, whose parents have to work away from home.

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Sun, 39, a former captain of China’s baseball team, sank his life savings into the scheme and had almost run out of cash to keep it going, the Shanghai-based website Eastday.com reported.

It costs 150,000 yuan (US$28,800) a month to operate the base and costs for each child amount to more than 50,000 yuan a year, the report said.

Sun’s efforts have now caught the attention of wealthy businesses and won him sponsorship from the Chinese conglomerate Fosun and a venture capital firm Black Butterfly, according to the article.

A sponsorship deal was signed on Monday and Sun will now be able to expand his programme to 50 children this year from the current 21, the report said.

Sun also plans to get the youngsters to take part in baseball tournaments in the US and Japan each year.

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The baseball training centre now trains children from Hebei, Shanxi, Qinghai and Gansu provinces, plus the Ningxia region of northern China.

“All the kids come from villages and mountainous regions – from poor families. I chose them because they can endure hardship and they are the ones who really need help,” Sun was quoted as saying by the news website Thepaper.cn.

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Four of the children were picked for a junior national team last July and won a gold medal at a baseball tournament in Japan.

“I remember when I was a little kid, my coach came to me and asked whether I’d like to go abroad,” said Sun. “I felt it was a great idea so I joined the baseball team. It’s baseball that has given me all I have. If baseball could change my fate, why can’t I change other children’s fate?” he said.

As well as baseball training, the children in the programme get a full education with the help of nearby schools.

Sun said many people involved in the project gave their services for free, including his coach Zhang Jinxin.

“I have career plans for these kids. They can go to US after 16 for the baseball draft and have the chance to become another Yao Ming,” said Sun, referring to China’s famous former basketball player.

“If it doesn’t work, they can enter professional teams in China or become coaches at China’s universities,” he said.