Opinion / Zhu Ping

Sports for the people

By Zhu Ping ( Updated: 2014-07-08 18:20

The city of Beijing and Hebei province’s city of Zhangjiakou welcomed the news on Monday that their joint bid is on the shortlist of the three candidate cities vying to host the 2022 Olympic Winter Games. The other cities are Oslo in Norway and Almaty in Kazakhstan.

There has also been much talk about whether China can be a strong candidate to hold the 2022 World Cup if Qatar is found to have gained votes with bribes and eventually stripped of its right to host the event.

But even if China wins the right to host the two events, the country will still be far from a true sports power.

Jiang Xiaoyu, a Beijing sports official who is working on the 2022 Olympics bid, said a successful Winter Games bid would lead to a sort of “winter sports belt” stretching from Northeast to North China and covering 300 million people. The authorities also hope the Winter Games will boost economic growth by promoting the integration of Beijing-Hebei-Tianjin development and that it will also help the authorities improve the environment – as they will be required to clean up the air.

Despite the potential gains, the sports authorities need to better communicate with the public given the controversies surrounding previous large-scale costly events. First of all, they need to make it clear that the legacy of expensive sporting events will benefit the public.

In sharp contrast to China winning the highest number of gold medals at the 2008 Beijing Olympics and coming second in the number of gold medals won during the 2012 London Olympics, the overall physical condition of Chinese youth, especially students, continues to decline.

In a national survey conducted by the General Administration of Sports last year, the average body weight of 43,000 adults aged between 20 and 69 who took part in the survey has increased by 1.12 kilograms compared with the average weight in 2010. The average body weight of the group aged between 20 and 39 increased by 1.92 kg, the highest among all the age groups. This age group is also the least active, as 51 percent said they do not do any regular exercise, despite a 4.5 percent increase in the total number of people doing regular exercise.

And, according to the Ministry of Education, the physical performance of Chinese students has continuously declined in the past two decades, and nearly 70 percent of high-school and university students are near-sighted. Just last month, the Chinese military had to relax its height, eyesight and weight requirements to recruit soldiers. Beijing’s army recruitment office said about 60 percent of college students fail the physical fitness examination, with most graduates being overweight.

A main reason behind the worrisome trend concerning weight and fitness is insufficient and inefficient public sports facilities. Public sports fields in China reportedly cover only about 0.65 sq m per person, which is far behind the developed countries - and also some developing countries. For example, a large stadium in Chaohu of Anhui province was eventually used to grow vegetables because of a lack of sports games.

Such stadiums designed for large-scale sports events cannot meet people’s requirements for physical exercise. And what people need most is actually also much cheaper - for example, more ping pong tables, basketball courts and so on.

Chinese football fans lament the fact that it seems like a distant dream for the country to win the World Cup, but people should remember that countries such as the Netherlands and Brazil have a large number of football fields which helped popularize the sport. Xinhua reported that one person out of 15 in the Netherlands is an amateur football player because of the number of football clubs - and most clubs also have a field.

However, in China, public sports facilities are often used for other purposes, and the cost for training at many sports facilities is still too high for people.

It’s good that sports officials are trying to promote interest in hosting large-scale sports events by saying about 300 million people will benefit from the Winter Games. But, before that, they need to make more detailed plans to effectively use the sports facilities for the benefit of the public.

For most of the population, it is more important to be able to access affordable public sports facilities - rather than the country hosting expensive sports events using public funds.

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