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CBA reinstates embattled Flying Tigers

Xinjiang to return from exile as league attempts to move on from controversy

By SUN XIAOCHEN | China Daily | Updated: 2023-03-17 09:08
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Only two weeks after its shocking withdrawal from the Chinese Basketball Association, the Xinjiang Flying Tigers are set to make an even more surprising return to the league after a CBA board meeting agreed on the club's re-entry.

In the latest development of its feud with the CBA, the Flying Tigers, the league's only franchise based in Northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region, earned a unanimous nod from all league stakeholders to rejoin the 2022-23 regular season, just half a month after quitting the league, citing a controversial penalty imposed by the CBA.

The news broke on Wednesday afternoon, following a social media leak of a league company notification calling an unscheduled stakeholders' meeting to vote for Xinjiang's reinstatement.

"Considering Xinjiang's application to rejoin the league after it had withdrawn its previous decision to quit, we hereby present a proposal of Xinjiang's return to the ongoing season and a solution to address the issues regarding results and league rankings caused by its missed games for all stakeholders to review and decide," read the leaked document, classified as "confidential".

All representatives of the league's other 19 clubs had voted "yes" on Xinjiang's return during the meeting, yet the final decision remains subject to approval by the country's central sports governing body, Beijing Youth Daily reported on Thursday.

Subject to that green light, Xinjiang will return to the league away to the Beijing Ducks at the Wukesong Arena on Friday, almost two months after its last league appearance in January before the holiday break.

The Ducks said on Thursday that game is going ahead, while videos shared on social media showed the Flying Tigers' team bus departing for the airport.

All seven games that Xinjiang had missed during its brief hiatus will be scored as 0-20 losses, according to the proposed solution discussed at the stakeholders' meeting. That would result in Xinjiang slipping nine places to 16th spot in the 20-club league.

Bringing Xinjiang back to the CBA helps "protect the league's collective image while enhancing the cohesion of the entire league organization", according to the leaked document.

The dramatic turnaround came after China's new sports minister, Gao Zhidan, called for greater efforts to revitalize the development of the three big-ball team sports (soccer, basketball and volleyball), especially on the men's side, at the first session of the 14th National People's Congress.

"The professional reform of the management systems for soccer and basketball in our country is in deep water, and faces arduous and formidable challenges that will require consistent efforts, an open mind and innovative approaches to succeed," said Gao, who was appointed director of the General Administration of Sport of China in September.

Zhou in limbo

Xinjiang's league exit was triggered by a CBA punishment announced on Feb 17 to ban the club from signing any new domestic players for a year, due to a violation of league rules reported by star player Zhou Qi.

The club had denied any wrongdoing in its statement announcing the withdrawal. However, the CBA stressed that the Flying Tigers had been operating financially in the name of a new company — as opposed to the original entity registered with the league, thus breaching CBA rules.

Zhou's whistleblowing was the latest episode in his long-term feud with the club, which dates back to a contract dispute in 2021.

After helping the Flying Tigers win the franchise's solitary CBA title in 2017, Zhou joined the NBA's Houston Rockets to start a two-year stint in the United States. However, his attempts to leave Xinjiang for a new CBA club after returning from the States in 2019 was blocked by the Flying Tigers. The club offered Zhou a maximum contract extension which, as per CBA rules, entitled it to retain his services.

Zhou, though, resisted and the ensuing standoff prompted the Team China star to leave for the Australian league, where he has plied his trade for the past two seasons.

If Xinjiang's return is approved, it is expected to keep the same rights to re-sign Zhou should the towering center decide to return to the CBA next season. The stakeholders' meeting did not elaborate on details related to Zhou's dispute with Xinjiang, nor any proposals to change the league rules involved, according to Beijing Youth Daily.

Zhou's resentment at the contract dispute has apparently not dissipated. Responding to a report that the tension between himself and Xinjiang had eased, Zhou wrote on his Weibo account on Wednesday: "No way! Do not even try to smooth it over!"

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