The cancellation of long-distance races at university games has highlighted the issue of declining physical fitness among college students.
Huazhong University of Science and Technology in Wuhan, Hubei province, canceled the women's 3,000-meter race and men's 5,000-meter race in its university games held over the weekend.
Organizers from the university's physical education department said the races were scrapped because most students lack the stamina to finish the demanding course, and ill-prepared runners may injure themselves.
Qiao Xiaoshan, a PhD candidate specializing in physical education research from Xidian University in Xi'an, Shaanxi province, said his university has not held long-distance races since 2006.
Qiao said more than 30 universities in Xi'an no longer held long-distance races because of the decline in students physical fitness, leading to concerns the students may suffer injury or even death if they took part in intense physical activity.
From 2002 to 2010 in China, more than 40 participants in long-distance running events aged 16 and over died suddenly, according to Qiao's research.
Long-distance runner Wei Xianglong said the cancellation was a "pity".
"I understand school authorities' concern because bad things may happen when runners race in severe cold when they are ill-prepared. But I hope the races will come back next year. Running helps us deal with stress," said Wei, who graduated from Huazhong University of Science and Technology this year.
Wei, 23, took part in 1,500-meter and 3,000-meter races in the university games over the past four years. With two other students, he co-founded a long-distance runners' association in 2011, organizing regular training and encouraging members to take part in marathons.
But many students do not have time for sports in their daily schedule, which mainly revolve around the classroom, the cafeteria and the dormitory, he said.
The problem is widespread in universities.
Song Zichen, a student from Hainan University in Haikou, Hainan province, said he used to play basketball for at least an hour a day before entering college, and now he can only go to the basketball court once a month.
Chen Yamei, a sports teacher from Hainan University, keeps tracks of students' physical fitness programs. To graduate, students have to pass in selected sports, such as 1,000 meters for male students and 800 meters for female students. Many students who have difficulty passing the program have approached Chen tearfully pleading to be passed, and she said some students call begging her to pass them and some even threaten suicide.
"It is very difficult to be caught in the middle. I have a duty to follow authorities' policies and run PE tests. But if I apply the rules too strictly, many students will fail in these mandatory tests and can't graduate," Chen said.
At universities, students treat PE as a course they need to give special attention to only in the weeks leading to an exam. They spend a lot of their time on the computers and their smartphones, and obesity rates are rising, Chen said.
The remedy to these problems should be introduced early, during primary and middle school, to give more incentives for parents to take their children to sporting activities. Today, most parents are preoccupied with their children's academic grades, and have neglected to invest time and money in children's physical strength, she said.
Many news reports in recent years have detailed how first-year university students are fainting during military training.
A national study of students' health and physique in 2010 found that college students were weaker than in 2005, according to the General Administration of Sport.
A lack of sports facilities and unhealthy lifestyles are behind the worsening numbers, experts said.
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