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China retains big events despite global meltdown

CONFIRMATION this week that the HSBC Champions would remain in Shanghai for the next two years was a timely indication that China could retain big international sports events and sponsors in troubled economic times.

Even before the global financial downturn caught up, China was already shedding major golf tournaments from its sporting calendar.

In 2007, the mainland hosted five tournaments co-sanctioned by the European Tour with prize money totalling US$17.55 million.

If HSBC had decided to relocate the fifth version of the Champions - as it suggested it might and still could after 2010 - that would have been reduced to two for 2009.

"In four years we have created what the players have called the Asian major," Giles Morgan of HSBC, said.

"This is an event that stands the test of scrutiny."

The US$1 million TCL Classic in Hainan Island was first to disappear from the schedule in 2008 and the US$2.3 million Asian Open followed suit this season.

The US$2.2 China Open, the oldest professional event in China, celebrated its 15th edition in Beijing earlier this month with the support of founding sponsors Volvo, the Swedish carmaker.

Prize purse

The other two tournaments that remain are the US$5.5 million World Cup of Golf, sponsored by Swiss watchmakers Omega and its Mission Hills venue, and the HSBC Champions, which will have a boosted prize purse of US$7 million this November.

The elevation of the HSBC Champions to World Golf Championship status, however, means new qualification criteria and as few as four Chinese players are likely to tee off alongside world No. 1 Tiger Woods in November.

With the two-man China team for the World Cup likely to be among the four in the Champions field, that means just a handful of Chinese will have a chance of winning any of the US$12.5 million up for grabs at the two biggest events in their country.

With the broader Asian contingent also reduced at the HSBC Champions this year, it raises questions about how beneficial the big tournaments are in developing golf in the region.

Both HSBC and Omega do, however, finance the growth of golf closer to the grassroots. Omega, despite cutting back its sponsorship this year, continues to back the professional China Tour, while HSBC runs a junior golf program with the CGA.

Morgan also said he thought that China would continue to attract big international sports sponsorships in the future.

"China is the fastest growing market in the world and an economic superpower and my belief is that strategic sponsorship will continue to grow," he said.


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