Domestic Affairs

Who should reward winning sports clubs?

By Gao Qihui (
Updated: 2010-04-29 09:15
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After winning its sixth championship title of the Chinese Basketball Association (CBA) in the past seven years, the Guangdong Winnerway basketball club could be rewarded by the local Dongguan municipal government with 8 million yuan ($1.17 million), according to the city government's previous promise, and by the Nancheng District Office of Dongguan with at least 4 million yuan ($580,000), which is how much the office rewarded the club last year.

In China, it is conventional for local governments to reward sports clubs. We can definitely understand how the local government would be proud of the club, and the Wnnerway club does bring great honors and happiness to the city. However, can this justify the government's "generous" reward to a commercial club?

All the money that the government spends comes from taxpayers, which means that government should spend each cent on public affairs relating to people's livelihood and not on a commercial club that operates the basketball team as a business.

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As China's most successful example of sports commercialization, CBA has fostered a mature market for all the basketball clubs, which make their own management decisions and take full responsibility for their own profits and losses. If one club gets the championship title, it will gain more fans and supporters from local citizens, even from the nationwide audience and subsequently, the club will earn more from ticket sales and sponsors, which will eventually increase the salary of players. That is the fundamental incentive for players struggling for the final championship title, whereas the honor and happiness they bring to the city are just byproducts.

So where is the legitimacy in one city government using taxpayers' money to reward a commercialized club? Anyway, I have never heard of any US city governments taking the liberty of using public funds to reward a local sports club. If they want to do that, they would have to ask for a vote by its citizens.

Tracing back to the beginning of sports industrialization or commercialization, the original intent was to unload the government's unnecessary burden of promoting sports and to refrain from its excessive intervention of sports development. However, Dongguan's reward seems to run in the opposite direction. If we treat the Winnerway club as a company, the rewards should be defined as an illegal government subsidy.

Dongguan's rewarding is just a localized version of the nationwide pursuit of sports honors. Such a reward was also made when Beijing municipal government rewarded the Beijing Guoan Football Club with 8 million yuan in 2009 after Guoan won the championship title of the China Football Association Super League.