BEIJING – A former Chinese national youth team basketball player who was reviled after she emerged playing in a Japanese league with Japanese citizenship has sparked heated debate over patriotism in sports in China.
Li Mingyang was heavily criticized online after basketball officials in China said earlier this week that she had assumed a Japanese name and was eligible to play for her new country’s national team in three years.
“No matter if she has a Chinese or an ugly Japanese name, she will be spurned by everybody who loves Chinese basketball for her unpatriotic behavior,” said Li Xin, China’s national youth team coach, on her verified account on Sina Weibo, China’s version of Twitter.
“This is the scum of Chinese basketball,” she added in the post, which was later deleted. The date of the post could not be verified.
Many netizens backed the coach’s remarks, while some commentators have blamed China’s state sports system, which intensively trains athletes from an early age but offers few incentives for those who do not reach the very top.
“If we want to keep our own talents at home, the governing body, sponsors and the whole society have to do better jobs in player education, salaries and postcareer employment to make the league more appealing than overseas destinations,” popular commentator Xu Jicheng said Wednesday in the China Daily.
The 18-year-old’s case, which has featured heavily in Chinese media, has also provoked a furious response from the Chinese Basketball Association.
CBA officials said Li left her Beijing team in 2010 to seek treatment for an injury and was later discovered to be playing for the Japanese team Chanson V-Mag, having adopted the name Miyuki Sugiyama.
The China Daily said the CBA would try to “reclaim Li” through discussions with Japanese basketball officials.
Li, who is almost 2 meters tall, would not be the first Chinese athlete to represent a foreign country.
However, analysts have said the intense national rivalry between China and Japan has played an important role in the negative public reaction.
Table tennis player He Zhili, who won a world title for China in 1987, was branded a “traitor” by domestic media when she changed her name to Chire Koyama and claimed gold for Japan at the 1994 Asian Games.