The NBA is “reevaluating” and considering other places for its academy program that currently operates out of sports facilities run by the Chinese government after NBA employees complained of human rights concerns, a recent investigative report has revealed.
Mark Tatum, the deputy commissioner and chief operating officer, spoke of the decision in a recent interview with American sports channel ESPN after reports surfaced and interviews were released of Chinese coaches physically abusing young players at an academy in China’s Xinjiang.
“We weren’t responsible for the local coaches, we didn’t have the authority,” Tatum said. “We don’t have oversight of the local coaches, of the academic programs or the living conditions. It’s fair to say we were less involved than we wanted to be.”
Xinjiang has become the center of international condemnation for the Chinese government’s torture and abuse of Uighur Muslims, an ethnic minority in China.
China has detained one million Uighurs in “reeducation camps” that reportedly force them to renounce their religious identity over the last decade. Beijing considers many Uighurs to be extremists and claims they are dangerous to China’s national security.
Most of the academy players at the Xinjiang location were Uighurs, but ESPN could not verify if the government crackdown impacted them.
“Tatum repeatedly avoided questions on whether the widespread human rights abuses in Xinjiang played a role in closing the academy, instead citing ‘many factors,’” ESPN said.
However, one coach recounted to ESPN watching “a Chinese coach fire a ball into a young player’s face at point-blank range and then ‘kick him in the gut,’” ESPN said.
“Imagine you have a kid who’s 13, 14 years old, and you’ve got a grown coach who is 40 years old hitting your kid,” the coach was quoted as saying.
Washington recently called out China and said it must “cease efforts to coerce” Uighur Muslims who fled the country to return, a US State Department spokesperson told Al Arabiya English this week. This came after reports that Turkey was sending Uighur refugees back to China.
ESPN cited coaches at the NBA academy in China describing the living conditions for players where players were crammed into dormitories. According to one former coach, the rooms meant for two people had bunkbeds installed and eight to 10 players would stay in a place.
NBA coaches and officials also questioned the lack of schooling for the players, some as young as 13 years old. “When the players — some as young as 13 — weren’t training, eating or sleeping, they were often left unsupervised,” the report said.
The report also cited two former league employees who complained because the players they were supervising were not in school, despite Chinese officials reassuring them that this was not the case.