NBA re-evaluating training programme in China after abuse allegations

BEIJING (Reuters) - The National Basketball Association (NBA) said it was re-evaluating its training programme in China following allegations of abuse of young players by local staff and harassment of foreign staffers at a facility in Xinjiang.

FILE PHOTO: NBA logos are seen next to a Chinese national flag outside a NBA-themed lifestyle complex on the outskirts of Tianjin, China, October 10, 2019. REUTERS/Jason Lee

The comments come after a report by ESPN that quoted unnamed American coaches saying Chinese coaches hit young players. One American coach who worked at a camp in Xinjiang complained of harassment by local police, the sports network said.

“The allegations in the ESPN article are disturbing,” NBA Deputy Commissioner Mark Tatum said in an email statement to Reuters on Thursday. “We ended our involvement with the basketball academy in Xinjiang in June 2019 and have been re-evaluating the NBA Academy program in China.”

Tatum said the programme, launched in 2016, was set up to provide support to existing development centres in China run by local authorities.

“Our role was limited to providing three coaches at each academy, none of whom have been alleged to have engaged in any wrongdoing,” he said.

The NBA received a “handful” of complaints about mistreatment of players, and Tatum identified four incidents of such abuse, a league spokesman said, confirming elements of the ESPN report.

The General Administration of Sport of China, the country’s top sports body, did not respond to requests for comment on Thursday and Friday. The foreign ministry declined comment on Thursday, saying the issues raised in the ESPN report were not matters of diplomacy.

China has been accused of human rights violations in the western province of Xinjiang, including forced labour and holding at least a million ethnic Uighurs and other Muslims in detention centres. China has denied such accusations.

The NBA’s standing in China, which has been its most important overseas market, has deteriorated sharply since late last year after Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey expressed support for pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong. Beijing’s state television pulled NBA games off its channels. It is not clear whether the games will be aired again.

The league resumed play on Friday morning Asia time for the first time since March, after a shutdown prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Reporting by Beijing newsroom; Additional reporting by Frank Pingue in Toronto; Writing by Se Young Lee; Editing by William Mallard