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Sportscaster Shrugs off Online Rumors and Pranks
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Huang Jianxiang, one of the most famous voices to Chinese youths and the country's top sportscaster, has become a bull's-eye of online rumors and pranks since he caused a nation-wide uproar for his Forza Italia outburst during the World Cup soccer finals.

The search engine of popular Chinese Internet portal registers over one million items on the China Central Television (CCTV) commentator, including fabricated news on his private life and a dozen of short films mocking at his passionate, straight-talking style which has won him as many detractors as supporters.

One short film, "China Wins the World Cup!", parodied Jackie Chan, the Chinese team and Huang's overzealous rant during Italy's victory over Australia in a World Cup knock-out match.

"I really don't care about these Web rumors and spoofs," Huang told the Xinhua reporter in a dimly-lit, no-smoking cafe in east Beijing. "What is really annoying me is that a lot of print newspapers carry fake news about me. They have never interviewed or called me. Where did my quotes come from?"

"I am just paying the price of being famous," he added.

Huang isn't the only celebrity victim of Internet mockery.

Web spoofs have become so popular that Chinese have even coined a new slang term, "e-gao," to describe the act of using real film and sound clips to create mocking send-ups.

Among recent spoofs was a 20-minute short titled "The Bloody Case of the Steamed Bun," using clips from director Chen Kaige's big-budget epic "The Promise." Chen has filed a court complaint against spoof author Hu Ge.

As one of the best-known TV hosts and the most knowledgeable and passionate soccer commentator in China, Huang still can't hide his preference while going on air.

While commentating the Italy-Australia game in June, Huang wasunable to control his enthusiasm when Italian Fabio Grosso went down in a challenge and a last-minute penalty was converted.

"Goooooal! Game over! Italy win! Beat the Australians!" he shouted. "Italy the great! Left back the great! Happy birthday to (Paulo) Maldini! Forza Italia!

"(Guus) Hiddink ...lost all his courage faced with Italian history and traditions... He finally reaped fruits which he had sown! They should go home. They don't need to go as far away as Australia as most of them are living in Europe. Farewell!"

The overzealous comments immediately drove his audience to two rivaling camps - one rooting for his passion and the other demanding his resignation.

Huang, who next day apologized for "inappropriate comments which upset and hurt the audience", said on Friday that the hoarse outburst was just "a technical mistake".

"If I hadn't shouted in a hoarse voice, the problem wouldn't have been so serious. Reviewing the recording, I don't think I stepped over the line too much," Huang said.

"Having commuted among seven out of 12 World Cup venues and live broadcasted 20 games, I was tired and lost my voice. I shouted because the broadcast seats were too noisy and my Spanish and Brazilian counterparts were all screaming, making me hardly able to hear my own voice."

Huang, who has broadcasted Italy's Serie A for seven years and Germany's Bundesliga for 12, said he didn't have a favorite team.

"I don't support any specific team. I prefer teams who play beautifully over those playing a boring, defensive or destroying game," he said.

It wasn't the first time that the Foreign Affairs University graduate walked into the epicenter of controversy with on-air comments.

Huang, who is candid enough to speak his mind, was accused of departing from journalistic objectivity as he questioned the competence of China's foreign coaches Bora Milutinovic and Arie Haan even when they were at the height of their popularity.

Huang poured a bucket of cold water on Milutinovic and joyous Chinese after the Chinese team qualified for the 2002 World Cup finals, saying the Serbian coach was just lucky and Chinese soccer didn't make real progress.

China qualified from an easy Asian qualifying tournament that excluded its arch rivals South Korea and Japan, which had secured World Cup berths as co-hosts.

"Everyone hailed Milutnovic as an omnipotent superhero. I didn't think so. He was just the luckiest ever head coach of the Chinese team," Huang said.

The Chinese team experienced a humiliating World Cup trip, losing nine goals in three games and netting none.

After Milutinovic left, came less known Dutchman Arie Haan.

Again, Huang was the first to challenge China's Football Association's choice.

Haan failed to deliver a 2006 World Cup berth and was sent packing.

As a strong advocate of "sports is a way of life", Huang seemed upset when touching upon the lack of sports venues for ordinary Chinese.

"When I saw over 40 people playing basketball in a fenced-in outdoor court in downtown Beijing, I was shocked and sad," he said.

"Why build so many buildings? Why not build more soccer fields, basketball courts, tennis courts? Or just leave a level ground there for kids to play on."

Huang said he was disgusted at "No Ball Game" sign in Chinese parks.

The flamboyant sportscaster blamed the declining physiques of school students on academic pressure and being less sports-active than students 20 years ago.

"When I was a student, I played a lot of soccer and other ball games," said the 38-year-old Huang. "But students nowadays have to spend hours on homework after school and have no time for sports.

"Schools and parents should take it easy on children and give them more time to play."

Taking a sip of lemon juice (he doesn't smoke or drink), Huang said he was saddened by the latest results of polling agencies proving Chinese students were less fit and healthy than a decade ago.

"Many TV viewers, including young students, told me they like to watch sports games but they don't play sports. Sports should be a part of life, like eating and sleeping. I told them to play more soccer, basketball, volleyball, any games but Internet game," said Huang, who plays soccer with friends as least once a week despite busy schedule.

"I have a packed schedule that includes over 200 live broadcasts every year, but I still find time to play soccer," he added.

Huang calls for Chinese and international enterprises, which never hesitate to sponsor star athletes and gold-winning national teams with big money, to build more sports facilities for the public.

"When you are slicing up the Chinese sports market, you are obliged to give something back to general public," he said.

China's per capita sports venues is less than one square meter, expected to rise to 1.4 by 2010, according to the statistics provided by the State General Administration of Sport.

Huang's concern echoed that of Chinese sports chief Liu Peng, who has admitted China's per capita sports facilities, sports consumption and the population engaged in regular physical exercises are far lower than developed countries, although the country has witnessed rapid development of sports undertakings.

"Since Beijing won the bid for the 2008 Olympics, especially after China finished only second to the United States on gold medal count in the Athens Olympics, many people see China as a world sporting power. I disagree," Huang said.

"Scandinavian countries don't collect many gold medals in the (Summer) Olympics, but their peoples are strong and healthy and they live sports and breathe sports. I think that is what a sports power should be."

Huang, who has live broadcasted about 2,000 soccer games since he was picked as one of five CCTV sports reporters from over 2,000applicants in 1994, has authored two books - "Teases on Soccer" and "Fight Like A Man".

"Fight Like A Man - I'm Just A Soccer Program Host", which records his personal experiences with sports, including three World Cups, three Asian Cups, three European champions and three Summer Olympics, has proven a big hit since hitting the shelf last May, rated high in the non-fiction best-seller list.

When asked about the mission of his life, Huang was lost in head-between-the-palms meditation. After a while, he raised his head and said: "As long as I have microphone in my hand, I will keep telling people sports is a part of life and it is never too late to engage in sports."

(Xinhua News Agency September 11, 2006)

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