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Transparency in charity
Publication Date : 01-07-2013
Former NBA star Yao Ming should work on fundraising efforts, consultant says
Despite his fading personal influence and the public's growing suspicion of the credibility of charities, Yao Ming is determined to carry out his charitable commitment.
Although shifting between roles as a businessman, club owner and political adviser since he retired from basketball in 2011, Yao has sensed the decline of his popularity and its consequent effect on his charity programme,
"Objectively, it (the decline) is happening and it happens to every retired athlete. I have to admit that it's getting harder to attract the attention that I used to," the former Houston Rockets' all-star centre said after launching the 2013 Yao Foundation Charity Game on Saturday.
It's the third time Yao has lured a glittering NBA cast to join Chinese national representatives for the basketball-themed charity programme since he began it in 2007, after NBA star Steve Nash inspired him with a locker room chat to focus more on charity and public welfare.
The Yao Foundation, which he established in 2008 after the devastating Sichuan earthquake, has helped build 16 Hope Schools, benefiting 9,000 students, in China's rural areas under the auspices of the China Youth Development Foundation, and has raised 80 million yuan (US$13 million) to fund youth sports and education.
Some critics claim Yao is using charity work to increase his public exposure, which heavily contributes to a pro athlete's marketing value.
Yao shrugs off such criticism.
"It helped me gain a spotlight, which is good for my post-basketball career. But if you do something valuable enough and do it from your heart, you know what your purpose is and you don't care about others' opinions," he said.
Joakim Noah, the Chicago Bulls' centre who was invited to play a charity game at the MasterCard centre on Monday, supports Yao.
"Everybody has their vision and view and in the US sometimes some of the players got bad names because it's not genuine," said the 28-year-old who also launched his own foundation recently.
"I know Yao is doing things for a genuine reason. Wherever it is in the world, if you're doing it from the heart, I think people feel that."
Yao's hands-on participation at grassroots events speaks louder than words.
During a mini clinic at Beijing's Huilei School for migrant workers' children on Sunday, Yao brought his wife Ye Li and 3-year-old daughter Yao Qinlei to meet the students. He served as an assistant trainer and even did three push-ups for his players as punishment for losing a mini contest.
Zhang Hao, a junior high school student who took part in the event, was impressed by Yao's friendliness.
"He's so kind and close to us. To be able to talk and learn from him in person, I feel so blessed," Zhang said.
Zhang and his classmates will be invited to play the third quarter of the charity game at the Beijing Olympic venue, where Yao's former Houston teammates Tracy McGrady, Metta World Peace (formerly Ron Artest) and Indiana Pacers' guard George Hill will appear with entertainment stars such as singer Han Hong.
All money from ticket sales and collected donations will be used to improve sports facilities during this year's Primary School Basketball Season, which was launched in April.
Yao stressed the importance of his foundation's transparency after scandals involving Red Cross Society of China.
"The key is we have to be able to track every coin of the fund and be open to the public about how the money is used," Yao said.
To guarantee its credibility, the Yao Foundation has volunteers from PricewaterhouseCoopers working as auditors. Yao is looking to recruit the world's largest accountancy and consulting group as a long-term partner.
A sports consultant said Yao has to work on more fundraising sources to maintain his foundation as his current mode of luring partnerships with personal connections will not last.
"What is lacking in his approach now is the ability to engage more assistance from society," said Zhang Qing, founder of sports marketing and consulting company Key-Sports.
"Yao's standing in the Chinese sports world is irreplaceable, but he'd better not count on it to run his charity work forever. To make his foundation and related charitable programme sustainable, he has to work on new ideas to let the foundation stand on its own."