Taiwan basketball team’s China bid sparks fears of ‘brawn drain’

By Amber Wang, AFP

TAIPEI, Taiwan — A leading Taiwanese basketball team’s bid to join China’s professional league has intensified concerns on the island that it is suffering a “brawn drain” to its giant neighbor. The Taiwan Beer side, championship winners in 2006-7 and 2007-8, recently announced that it wants to play in the Chinese Basketball Association (CBA) league, adding to an emerging exodus of players heading for the mainland. “We cannot stop players from making the most of their limited athletic lives but rather than losing one after another to Chinese teams, our team could join the CBA,” said head coach Richard Yan.

The team, named after the signature product of its main sponsor, Taiwan Tobacco and Liquor Corp., would attract more backers and offer better deals to players once in the CBA, he said. The plan raised a few eyebrows, with basketball authorities saying they opposed the team moving its big shots to China while leaving junior players in Taiwan’s Super Basketball League (SBL). “Of course we hope top players stay in Taiwan… We don’t want the SBL to become a sideshow to the CBA,” said Huang Chao-her, secretary-general of the Chinese Taipei Basketball Association. While the association does not bar individual players from moving to China, it would be difficult for the Taiwan Beer team to get the green light because it has a state-funded sponsor, Huang said. “Such a move would require the approval of various government agencies in charge of sports, labor, finance and China affairs. It is a very complicated matter,” said Huang. Several top coaches reportedly backed Taiwan Beer, saying it is inevitable for local teams to tap into China’s vast market in the wake of dwindling box office income and funding. For years Taiwan’s top athletes have gone to powerhouses such as the United States and Japan in the hope of taking their careers to the next level, but increasing they are setting their sights on China. “The trend of going to China is unstoppable,” said Chu Yen-shuo, a Beijing-based Taiwanese sport critic and former chief editor of Hoop Taiwan magazine. “Just like many European players joined the NBA, it’s only natural that people want to move where there is more money,” he said, adding top Chinese players can earn up to five times more than their Taiwanese peers. Lin Chih-chieh, a former star forward of Taiwan Beer, was among the players and coaches who jumped on the bandwagon when he joined the Guangsha Lions in eastern Zhejiang province last year.