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E-commerce giant Alibaba joins real estate tycoon to help change Chinese soccer

English.news.cn   2014-06-05 16:30:27

(FOCUS)(SP)CHINA-GUANGZHOU-SOCCER-EVERGRANDE-COOPERATION
Chairman of Evergrande Group Xu Jiayin (L) and founder and chairman of Alibaba Group Ma Yun thumb up at a signing ceremony of strategic soccer cooperation between the Evergrande Group and Alibaba Group in Guangzhou, capital of south China's Guangdong Province, June 5, 2014. China's largest e-commerce company Alibaba Group became the part owner of the country's top soccer club Guangzhou Evergrande, as it pronouced to invest 1.2 billion yuan (about 192 million U.S. dollars) to own 50 percent of Evergrande's stake on Thursday. (Xinhua/Liu Dawei)

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GUANGZHOU, Guangdong Province, June 5 (Xinhua) -- Chinese soccer could see more changes coming as China's largest e-commerce company Alibaba Group became the part owner of the country's top soccer club Guangzhou Evergrande on Thursday.

At a joint press conference held in southeast China's Guangzhou, Alibaba founder and chairman Ma Yun and real estate tycoon Xu Jiayin announced this much anticipated partnership.

Alibaba will invest 1.2 billion yuan (about 192 million U.S. dollars) to own 50 percent of Evergrande's stake.

Evergrande boss Xu said it was the company's "strategic decision" to introduce new capital to the club. The cooperation with Alibaba is the first step and he intends to bring in 20 more shareholders with 200 million yuan each.

"The club capital will be expanded. Ma and I will eventually combine to hold 60 percent of the stake," said the real estate billionaire who built the Evergrande powerhouse.

Evergrande's blitz to conquer the Chinese top league has left many dumbfounded. Promoted to the Super League in 2011, the Guangzhou club won the title in the very season before they went on to dominate 2012 and 2013.

In 2013, the club claimed the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Champions League crown, becoming China's first Asian champion since the country launched the professional league in 1994.

It is fair to say that Evergrande has contributed to Chinese soccer's recovery after the sport trudged in corruption scandals and suffered dwindling viewership in the past decade.

Apart from the its domestic and international success, Evergrande's appetite for high profile players and coaches often drew huge attention as they bought Brazilian league star Dario Conca for a record 60 million yuan in 2011 and recruited former Italy coach Marcello Lippi.

When the rich becomes richer, a wider gap between the champions and the rest of the league teams seems inevitable.

"Beijing and Shandong's dreams, if any, have been shattered," complained a net user with an ID Mc-Zeng on Xinhua's microblog. Another comment mentioned Harbin Yiteng, a Super League club struggling to make ends meet.

Concerns over Evergrande's dominance that might hinder the league development, however, have been subdued by speculations on how Ma Yun will change the sport in China.

Ma admitted that he practically knew nothing about soccer but said "amateurs are wanted to make things different."

"Chinese soccer is an entangled business. As to me, happiness is what soccer is about. We are not only investing in Evergrande, but also in Chinese soccer and the happiness it brings," said Ma.

"Mr. Xu invited us to join them in a hope to reform the sport. I want to bring in some new ideas and new measures," he said.

Alibaba Group owns Taobao.com and Tmall.com, key on-line sales platforms which produced a stunning 35 billion yuan turnover on Singles' Day, on Nov. 11 last year after Alibaba tagged the date China's version to Cyber Monday.

The group also has the largest online third-party instant payment system Alipay.

Although Ma believed the online technology and computing service will bring changes to the traditional sports industry, soccer fans have decided to leave technical details to the experts and focus on what they do care about instead.

Both Ma and Xu have promised not to interfere in coaching.

"My responsibility is to manage the club, not to replace the coach," said Ma.

Internet users responded well to Ma's pitch in soccer.

"They join together to break the old system and give new life to Chinese soccer," said a net user named SokerFan. "I believe the game is about to take a big step forward. They promise not to step in the locker room, which is wise."

Editor: Shen Qing
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