Us­ing sport to cul­ti­vate a stronger so­ci­ety

China Daily (Canada) - - FRONT PAGE - By LI YANG in Bei­jing liyang@chi­nadaily.com.cn

Liu Xiang, China’s best hur­dler, re­tired from the track last month at 32 years of age. His 2004 Olympic gold medal was the first for China in a men’s track and field event. But the void Liu left be­hind ex­poses the loop­holes in the sys­tem of cul­ti­vat­ing tal­ented ath­letes in th­ese dis­ci­plines in China.

Although the coun­try won 51 gold medals at the 2008 Bei­jing Olympic Games, none came in field and track.

First of all, China lacks world­class coaches, who play an im­por­tant role in scout­ing tal­ented ath­letes and get­ting them to per­form at their top po­ten­tial based on the lat­est sci­en­tific train­ing.

Liu was born in Shang­hai and met an im­por­tant coach at age 13 who sug­gested he switch over from the long jump to hur­dles. An­other coach helped trans­form him from a lo­cal cham­pion into a world-record breaker.

An­other leg­endary ath­lete from Shang­hai is the high jumper Zhu Jian­hua, who broke the world record three times from 1983 to 1984 and in­creased it from 2.35 me­ters to 2.39 m. At age 10 he met a coach who per­suaded him to ditch ta­ble ten­nis and take up the high jump, which set the stage for him to reach heights no Asian had ever pre­vi­ously at­tained.

Science and tech­nol­ogy are in­creas­ingly im­por­tant in the train­ing of ath­letes but many Chi­nese coaches still rely on their per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ence. They also de­pend on a train­ing sys­tem bor­rowed from the for­mer Soviet Union that was popular from the late 1950s and was re­vised in the 1980s.

Although the State-run sports school sys­tem, which also dates back to the 1950s, pro­duces the most cham­pi­ons in China, it sep­a­rates th­ese ath­letes from regular so­ci­ety and the nor­mal ed­u­ca­tional sys­tem at an early age. It would be bet­ter to re­form the old sys­tem now and make sports and phys­i­cal ed­u­ca­tion an in­te­gral part of school­ing. Then more chil­dren will have the op­por­tu­nity to de­velop their in­ter­est in sports.

On the other hand, many ath­letes who grad­u­ate from pro­fes­sional sports schools have great dif­fi­culty earn­ing a living af­ter they re­tire from the State-run sports sys­tem in their late 20s, es­pe­cially if they don’t win any medals.

Merg­ing sports schools with nor­mal schools can solve th­ese draw­backs. More­over, good ath­letes are bet­ter role mod­els for young peo­ple than celebri­ties in the en­ter­tain­ment world. They cul­ti­vate a health­ier out­look on life and a healthy ap­proach to tack­ling dif­fi­cul­ties.

Sports of­fi­cials should be as­sessed more on how they im­prove the public’s health and fit­ness than on how many medals their ath­letes pocket.

The gov­ern­ment should also pro­vide more ath­letic play­ing fields for peo­ple to ex­er­cise in cities. Th­ese are an im­por­tant prod­uct that Chi­nese cities lack.

Many play­grounds and sta­di­ums in public schools are rented out to pri­vate prop­erty man­age­ment com­pa­nies, which then charge the public high prices.

Shang­hai has the best sports fa­cil­i­ties and in­fra­struc­ture in China. Ac­cord­ing to its sports bureau, there are 1.72 square me­ters of ath­letic field per per­son on av­er­age. This is higher than the na­tional level (1.45 sq m) but much lower than de­vel­oped coun­tries.

The cen­tral gov­ern­ment vowed to in­crease the na­tional av­er­age to 2 sq m by 2025 and mo­bi­lize pri­vate in­vestors to par­tic­i­pate in China’s sports in­dus­try.

The gov­ern­ment also needs to change its at­ti­tude. Sport is an in­vest­ment in the na­tional health that will gen­er­ate myr­iad benefits in the fu­ture.

GAO ERQIANG / CHINA DAILY

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