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Yao Ming gives a speech at the launch of the Yao Foundation Hope Primary School basketball season in Beijing on Monday. Provided to China Daily
Yao Ming has called on schoolmasters throughout the country to promote more sports on campuses in China.
Shifting his focus to boosting sport's role in education after his retirement from elite basketball in 2011, Yao has consistently urged society to pay more attention to the all-round development of children through sports activities.
His latest appearance drew headlines as he stressed more work remains to be done to change the reality in China that academic achievement is more important than athletics.
"It's a sad thing for Chinese education that we still put too much emphasis on scores and results while neglecting sport's role in personality shaping," Yao said at the launch of the 2013 Hope Primary School basketball season, a charitable program initiated by his Yao Foundation, on Monday.
"You can't learn everything from textbooks sport is very helpful in providing life lessons that kids should learn as well."
Yao's point was borne out by the fact that even 14-year-old Guan Tianlang, the youngest golfer to ever play in the US Masters, had to go back to his homework right after his sensational major debut at the Augusta National Golf Club last week.
"In China, you don't take the classes, they give you the classes. There are a lot of things (to study) like math, English, science ," the eight-grader said of his schoolwork at his final media conference on Sunday.
Guan is lucky. At least his parents have provided him with the freedom to develop his hobby into a potential career.
Under the pressure of national college entrance examinations, Chinese students have to squeeze their off-school time to make room for heavy loads of homework and tests.
Physical education classes and many sports are canceled in most of the nation's high schools leading up to exams.
The lack of exercise has resulted in an apparent decline in students' health levels, and conditions like obesity and myopia are growing among teenagers.
From simply improving children's fitness to benefiting their inner strength, Yao hopes sport can make an impact through activities like basketball.
"By taking sports activities, children learn about teamwork, leadership and socializing, all crucial virtues for their future lives, as well as growing a strong body," said Yao, who proposed the introduction of more exercise at schools at the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference National Committee earlier this year.
Yao's personal initiative, which reached 42 schools in rural regions last year, will include 38 more schools over the next two months, during which college volunteers will be trained and sent to instruct children in basketball skills and sports facilities will be created.
In addition, NBA stars will be invited to the western and eastern tournaments, which will be staged in Mianyang, Sichuan province, and Lu'an, Anhui province, in July and August respectively.
Last year's participants were full of praise for the initiative.
"The event indeed brought a difference to our school. Students became more interested in basketball and other sports events and our PE teachers honed their methods," said Chen Xiupu, president of the Yao Foundation Hope School in Linyi, Shandong province.
The program is jointly organized by the Yao Foundation, China Youth Development Foundation and Chinese Basketball Association.
Yao upbeat despite skeptics
Facing questions about whether his foundation was over-hyping sponsors at its events, Yao said his organization had taken the right path.
"It depends on your individual opinion," Yao said. "We operate the charity projects in a sustainable way by welcoming all kinds of donations, including enterprises. And we should give them exposures in return.
"We believe we are running it in a transparent way."
(China Daily 04/16/2013 page24)