Basketball star Yi Jianlian talks to media at the flag-raising ceremony in the Games Village in east London on Wednesday. Yi is expected to be China's flag bearer at the opening ceremony of the London Olympic Games on Friday. Photo: AFP
Chinese sports fans debated who should lead the country's procession of athletes at the opening ceremony of the London Olympic Games on Friday, after basketball star Yi Jianlian appears to have been selected as the country's flag bearer.
"I would like to express my gratitude to the country for entrusting me with the glory of this mission," 24-year-old Yi told a media briefing on Wednesday after the Chinese delegation held a flag-raising ceremony in the Olympic Village in London.
At the same media briefing, Duan Shijie, deputy chef de mission of the Chinese Olympic delegation, didn't confirm Yi's appointment, saying only that "choosing the flag bearer will follow tradition."
The Chinese delegation has chosen a basketball player to lead its delegation since the Los Angeles Games in 1984.
"There are many candidates for flag bearer, all of whom have their advantages. Unfortunately there can be only one flag bearer," Duan said.
Yi joined the NBA in 2007 but returned home during the NBA lock-out.
Li Na, the 2011 French Open women's singles champion who plays outside the country's sports system, and Athens gold medal hurdler Liu Xiang are two of the candidates most favored in online polling.
"He or she needs to have an impressive record in sports, be tall, handsome and influential," Xiao Tian, deputy chef de mission of the Chinese Olympic delegation said on Monday after arriving in London, according to the Xinhua News Agency.
Many Web users showed their dissatisfaction in ruling out other hot candidates, which they believe could better represent the nation's rising clout in sports.
The selection of Yi as the flag bearer is actually a reflection of the sport authority's narrow-minded rationale and doesn't take into account whether the candidate is sufficiently representative of the nation's sports power, a Web user under the screen name of xjmubarak complained on his Sohu microblog.
"The recent record of China's men's national basketball team has not been satisfying. There are better choices for flag bearer in terms of sports records and international influence," Zhao Jisheng, an associate professor of sports at Beijing Normal University, told the Global Times.
The decision to continue the tradition of selecting a basketball player to be the flag bearer is indicative of the country's rigid state sports system which restrains diversity, Zhao noted.
China is fielding a 396-strong delegation featuring 33 Olympic gold medalists to the Games in London.