The Asian Games kicks off in Jakarta this weekend, though coming on the heels of a World Cup summer, plus memories of the Beijing Olympics from 10 years ago, in truth it’s hard to get excited about the regional competition. Still, it’s a big deal for Chinese media, because China Always Wins. In fact, you have to go all the way back to 1978 to find a winner (most gold medals) other than China, and that was largely because the PRC joined the party late, debuting in 1974 despite the Asian Games kicking off back in 1951.
So for a country that likes to flaunt its nationalist muscles from time to time, the Asian Games is a big deal. Athletes such as sprinter Su Bingtian 苏炳添, who is still a pretender at the very top level internationally despite some impressive performances this season, are expected to race clear in Indonesia — especially now that his main rival and countryman, Xie Zhenye 谢震业, has pulled out through injury. In the pool, China could clean up with triple Olympic champion Sun Yang 孙杨, world champion backstroker Xu Jiayu 徐嘉余, and Fu Yuanhui 傅园慧 — whose priceless reactions at the 2016 Olympics in Rio went viral — leading the charge.
But elsewhere, one of the most compelling stories is that of South Korea’s Son Heung-min, a star striker for Tottenham Hotspur in the English Premier League who’s been granted leave by his club in the hope that South Korea wins gold. If — and only if — they do, Son will be exempt from 21 months of military service, with Tottenham keen for him to succeed, having just extended his contract for another five years. Son didn’t play in Korea’s 6-0 drubbing of Bahrain last night — the soccer competition typically kicks off prior to the opening ceremony — but tougher matches await.
Elsewhere, look out for some of the more unusual sports including kabaddi, bridge, jet ski, sepak takraw (a.k.a. kick volleyball), and martial art pencak silat. But more significantly from a Chinese perspective, esports will be a demonstration event in Indonesia, ahead of being granted full medal status when the Asiad moves to Hangzhou in 2022. Alibaba, whose headquarters are in Hangzhou, has been a central driver of this development, and with its long-term sponsorship of the IOC, don’t be surprised if gamers are winning Olympic medals as early as 2024.
Out here in Xi'an! pic.twitter.com/JutOCM0NF7
— Derrick Rose (@drose) August 8, 2018
A couple of weeks ago, we covered news of a “new” Chinese player in the NBA — Kyle Anderson, who is actually one-eighth Chinese. This week comes the story of a veteran backup earning the league minimum salary but somehow still killing it in China when it comes to selling merchandise.
Derrick Rose averaged less than six points per game at the end of the regular season after being traded to the Minnesota Timberwolves in March, but basketball fans in China are loyal, with many still clearly remembering his prime (2008 No. 1 pick, 2011 MVP) before a serious ACL injury saw his production wane.
According to this article from ESPN, not only has Rose’s jersey maintained bestseller status in recent years thanks largely due to sales in China, but more than 70 percent of the sales of his signature Adidas sneaker comes from China — and when that country has more than 10,000 stores with more on the way, that’s a lot of potential customers. In fact, given that reigning MVP James Harden and first-team All-NBA guard Damian Lillard are the only other basketball stars for whom Adidas currently makes a branded shoe, it’s clear that Rose’s China following is responsible for sustaining his sneaker line.
It’s also a lesson in connecting with Chinese fans in a genuine way — and on a regular basis. Yes, Rose was at the peak of his considerable powers when he first came to China, but he’s been coming back year after year, famously breaking down in tears after watching a fan tribute video last summer in Shenyang.
That support will see Adidas release the DRose 10 next season, an event that will see him join an exclusive club as he becomes only the eighth NBA player to have launched 10 consecutive editions of a signature sneaker line with a single brand.
Not bad for a backup.
The China Sports Column hasn’t bashed the overly zealous Chinese Football Association for at least a couple of weeks, so it’s time, quickly, to put that right. CFA suits have been in Zagreb recently, meeting with their counterparts from the Croatian FA and — surprise, surprise — signing an agreement.
If this sounds like a familiar tale, that’s because the CFA has had similar meetings — and no doubt signed equally worthless agreements — with football associations from many of the top footballing powers in a bid to create a conclusive Football with Chinese Characteristics framework.
But as each successive country has been rubbing their hands at the thought of becoming China’s primary partner just as China’s football scene is about to explode, they’ve all gone virtually nowhere. The notable exception has been Germany, which had been based on a higher-level, country-to-country partnership (rather than FA-to-FA), until that pesky Tibetan flag got in the way of things.
Croatia had yet to join that list, but following its run to the semifinals of the World Cup last month, evidently they shot to the top of the CFA’s most wanted list.
It’s also interesting that this CRI article chooses to highlight the fact that “China’s first youth academy in Europe was established at the SK Slavia Praha club in Prague last year.”
That’s the very same club, it appears, now desperate to get rid of its Chinese investors.