Li Na and China’s Soviet-Style Sports System

Chinese tennis star Li Na may have bowed out of Wimbledon on Tuesday, but Clarissa Sebag-Montefiore of the International Herald Tribune points out that Li is one of just a few athletes that have found success outside of China’s state-sponsored sports system:

Li was first shepherded into the state system as a young child. But in 2008, at age 26, she and three other tennis players battled the sports administration for the right to run their own professional lives. A new pilot scheme was introduced called danfei, “flying solo,” and under it Li soared. In 2011, she became China’s first (and only) Grand Slam winner in the French Open.

Since then Li has been allowed to choose her coaches, schedules and sponsors. Instead of having to hand over to the state 65 percent of the earnings and prize money she collects, as she did before, she now reportedly passes on 12 percent at most.

The rise of Li — and other self-made athletes like the 14-year-old golf superstar Guan Tianlang — calls into question the effectiveness of state-run competitive sports training. [Source]

China’s only Grand Slam winner has developed a reputation in China for having a short temper with the press – Xinhua News reports that while she largely kept her temper in check during Tuesday’s loss, she drew the ire of netizens both at the French Open and on Monday at Wimbledon for comments made to the media. A reporter on Monday asked her “whether she wants to say something to Chinese fans who stayed up watching her game,” the same question she received in Paris after losing in the second round last month:

“Do I need to explain?” Li then returned in Chinese.

“It’s strange. I lost a game and that’s it. Do I need to get on my knees and kowtow to them? Apologize to them?” said the player from the central Chinese city of Wuhan.

Her remarks, either from the French Open or Wimbledon, sparked debates among Chinese public.

“Meifulin”, a netizen on Sina Weibo, China’s Twitter-like website, said: “Reporting is that reporter’s job just as playing tennis is your job. How can Li say those graceless words? (What she said is) Too disappointing. If she doesn’t change her attitude, Li may face some bigger challenges and troubles in the future.” [Source]


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