Chinese pro league to launch, Asia league planned

BEIJING (Reuters) - China is to launch a professional baseball league in seven cities this year as a springboard to creating an Asia-wide league involving regional powerhouses Japan and Taiwan over the next six years.

QSL Sports Limited, owned by Chinese-born American financier Kenny Huang, has signed a long-term deal to co-manage the league with the Chinese Baseball Association (CBA).

"I believe the partnership... will bring forward transformational changes to the sport of baseball in China," Huang said in a news release.

"In the coming six years, we aim to create an Asian baseball league between China, Taiwan, Japan and Korea, most of whom have long been strong baseball league players on the world stage." Baseball in China was dealt a major blow when the sport was removed from the Olympic schedule after the 2008 Beijing Games as the country's state-run sports system is overwhelmingly focused on success at that level.

Although baseball has a reasonably long history in mainland China, it has nowhere near the profile it enjoys in Japan and Taiwan, both of which have contributed several players to the American major leagues.

The only proper ballpark in China was built for the Beijing Olympics and was a temporary venue, although there are plans to reconstruct it in the southeastern coast city of Xiamen.

Xiamen was not, however, among the cities that will host the new league in July and August this year -- Beijing, Tianjin, Shanghai, Wuxi, Zhengzhou, Guangzhou and Chengdu.

Huang, who has in the past worked with the New York Yankees and brought the World Series trophy to China earlier this year, has also signed a deal to run what was China's second tier basketball league, the NBL. He was part of a consortium which was in negotiations to purchase a 15 percent stake in the NBA's Cleveland Cavaliers earlier this year.

(Reporting by Nick Mulvenney; Editing by John O'Brien)