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Prior to 1990s, sport in China, as in parts of Eastern Europe, was government funded, not market oriented. Some excellent athletes quit at the height of their careers because they were uncertain about life post retirement from sport. The situation began to change in 1994 when Chinese soccer became the first sport to take the professionalization road, and in its wake similar reforms were carried out in basketball, volleyball, table tennis and Go. The process brought with it prosperity; sport associations became profit-generating entities and a club system came into being; professional leagues formed, improving China's sports environment; and commercial management systems took shape. The professionalization of sports has encouraged the emergence of a sports management market and business-structured systems. Sports clubs operations now cover ticket sales, advertising, club transfers, commercial matches, television broadcasting and other commercial activities.

Another achievement of the reform is that some Chinese athletes have joined foreign professional leagues. For instance, basketball star Yao Ming joined the American NBA, whilst Yang Chen and Sun Jihai play in European soccer leagues.

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