China Parliamentary Sessions 2015

Basketball star Yao Ming ‘envious’ of government support given to soccer in China

Former NBA player hopes his own sport will be given similar backing by top leaders

PUBLISHED : Monday, 09 March, 2015, 4:24pm
UPDATED : Monday, 09 March, 2015, 7:02pm

Former basketball star Yao Ming says he is envious of the amount of support senior government leaders are giving to soccer in China.

Yao, who is a delegate on the national political advisory body that is now holding its annual meeting in Beijing, told reporters: “As somebody from basketball, firstly I would like to express my envy. I very much hope that in the near future there will be a plan to promote basketball in schools, too.”

State media announced last month that President Xi Jinping, a keen football fan, is involved in a central government initiative to try to improve soccer standards in China.

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The state-run news agency Xinhua said the plan was to revive the sport, which it described as an “embarrassment to the nation”.

Football is massively popular on the mainland, but the national team has only qualified for the World Cup finals once and it lost all three of its games. The sport has also been beset by corruption scandals with senior officials jailed for match fixing and taking bribes.

Yao, who played for the Houston Rockets in the NBA, said it was essential that schools were closely involved in the development of soccer in China.

“The biggest problem with China's football is that it is too far removed from schools,” he said.

“Any cultivation of talent, without the basis of school education, will not be realistic or sustainable.”

Yao also expressed irritation with reporters during his press briefing after they asked for his autograph or to take pictures with him.

“I want to ask, is this the right attitude?,” he said.

“I don’t want to criticise, but everybody needs to do his own job well.”