Since I'm not in China at the moment, and therefore couldn't watch CCTV-5, I went online Monday to find out how Ding had fared over the weekend. He played his way into the semis Friday, and beat Mark Allen in the semis Saturday. He lost the final to Welshman Mark Williams, but to look at China Daily's online sports page Monday, you would think he hadn't played it yet:The latest news there was stuck on last Thursday, Ding's birthday and the day he won his second round game.
As the official state-run English-language newspaper, China Daily isn't somewhere that those in the know go for hard-hitting investigative journalism—but four days behing on something as innocuous as a snooker tournament? By the time they get the news up, will anyone who cares about it not know already? And it's not unusual for China Daily's coverage to lag like that.
China Daily's biggest online competitor, Xinhua, has better sports coverage, and did have up-to-date news from Beijing:
And if you're wondering why we're even talking about snooker, it's because the game has quite a following in China. As Sam Pearson wrote in a post here in December, "The increasingly popular [cue] sports have a rare combination of Chinese world beaters, government support, affordability, a fashionable image and excellent domestic TV coverage." (Pot the Reds: Cue sports in China). Ding Junhui, 24, is the face of snooker in China, having burst onto the scene with big wins in 2005. He's even inspired the creation of an animated TV series based on the adventures of a young Ding in snooker competitions. The game ranked fourth in sports television broadcast hours in 2009, after soccer, basketball and tennis, according to TNS Sport China. And Ding is sponsored by Mengniu Dairy, one of China's biggest consumer goods companies.
Tags: China Daily, Ding Junhui, snooker, sports media, Xinhua
A number of factors add up to give cue sports an edge in China. The increasingly popular sports have a rare combination of Chinese world beaters, government support, affordability, a fashionable image and excellent domestic TV coverage.
The most recent example of Chinese success came just two weeks ago (November 22nd) at the Kappa Cup Women's World 9-ball Championship, held in Shenyang. The title was claimed by 16-year-old, Liu Shasha, who beat China's popular "Queen of 9-ball" Pan Xiaoting in an all-China final. Liu's rise in the sport has been meteoric, from the time she started playing 9-ball a mere two years ago.
Four years ago another stick prodigy, Ding Junhui (丁俊晖), exploded onto the world snooker scene at the 2005 China Open by defeating then top-ranked Stephen Hendry in front of a television audience of 110 million, according to a report from China Daily. Ding followed that up later that year by beating another snooker legend, Steve Davis, to win the UK championship. Currently, however, Ding is in a slump and has dropped to 13th in the world (having been ranked as high as ninth). Perhaps he needs to learn some more lessons from Xiao Hui (Little Hui), the world-beating star of cartoon series "Dragon Ball No. 1," inspired by Ding.
In the last two years, Ding has inspired a new generation of snooker stars including Liang Wenbo, who now challenges Ding for the position as China's number one. Other players to have followed in Ding's footsteps, literally, are Xiao Guodong, Tian Pengfei and Liu Song--who now all live and train with him in Sheffield, England.
Zhang Xiaodong, snooker director of the Multi-ball Administrative Center, the sport's governing body in China, is full of encouragement for the latest stars, saying to China Daily: "They give us a lot more to talk about other than Ding. They are trailblazers. They show millions of Chinese families that professional dreams are accessible, and tell sponsors there is a huge market behind them."
The millions of Chinese families and sponsors Zhang mentions haven't gone unnoticed by World Snooker, the sport's global governing body, which just last week (November 26th) announced that it will partner with IMG to launch a World Tour to "capitalize on the burgeoning interest in professional snooker in many countries around the world, and develop snooker's professional circuit in a way similar to that of global sports such as tennis and golf." A few of those world tour stops will surely be in China since Beijing was the site of World Snooker's first office outside of the United Kingdom and, according to World Snooker, approximately 50 million Chinese now play snooker.
The affordability of cue sports and their easy-to-understand rules are both factors in the sport's popularity in China. It fits well into the government's approved category of a "can play" sport and in addition, the sport has benefited from a "beautiful hustler" image of the women's players mentioned above. Thanks to that image it is now considered a cool sport, particularly amongst the fashion-sensitive youth demographic.
For non-traditional sports in China, the importance of exposure on CCTV-5 (the national sports channel) cannot be emphasized enough. With Chinese stars performing well on the world stage, CCTV has been steadily increasing broadcasts of snooker and 9-ball, in turn leading to more young talent coming through the ranks in what has become an extremely virtuous cycle for the sport.
With seemingly every aspect of China's support behind it, cue sports are flourishing in China and great leaps forward are being achieved breathtakingly fast. For evidence of this you need look no further than 16-year-old 9-ball world champion Liu Shasha, or veteran Ding Junhui, by far the most experienced Chinese snooker player, who earlier this year celebrated his 22nd birthday.
Ding Junhui image: Baike.baidu.com
Ding Junhui cartoon image: Sports.sohu.com
Tags: 9-ball, CCTV5, cue sports, Ding Junhui, governing body, Liang Wenbo, Liu Shasha, pool, Snooker, women's sports, World Snooker
Many sporting events were cancelled or postponed as well, including an Asian Football Club Champions League match between China's Changchun Yatai and Australia's Adelaide United FC. When play resumes in the gymnasiums and stadiums around China, hopefully sports can play the cathartic role that it has after major disasters in other countries.
The sporting world continues to pitch in on relief efforts in a variety of ways. Chengdu Stadium is serving as a temporary home for thousands displaced by the disaster. And some of China's past Olympians recently visited hard-hit areas in Sichuan, offering encouragement and relief goods to victims. Four-time Olympic gold medal-winning table tennis player Deng Yaping was among the group, and said to the AP, "Sports is really a good way to forget about the wounds of tragedy." And Yao Ming filmed a public service announcement for the Red Cross (below) that is airing during the NBA Playoffs.
Athletes, sports organizations and sports-related businesses are joining the stream of financial assistance as well. Earlier this week, after coming in third in the Huangshan Cup Snooker All-Star Game, Ding Junhui donated his 150,000 yuan (20,000 USD) game bonus to the earthquake relief efforts.
"I learned from TV that people in the quake-hit areas suffered a lot. Many parents died and left behind their children. I hope they will soon get well," Ding said to Xinhua News. "I hope all children can live their future happily and healthily."
The Sichuan sports administration reported yesterday that none of China's Sichuan-based professional athletes were injured in the quake.
Tags: Asian Football Club Champions League, Deng Yaping, Ding Junhui, snooker, Wenchuan earthquake