Search for ‘extreme’ Olympic athletes going global
Gearing up for four new events at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, China’s top sports body is hoping to draft overseas athletes of Chinese origin to represent their motherland in areas where China lacks athletic prowess.
Without enough talent in surfing, climbing, skateboarding and BMX freestyle riding, four sports added for the Tokyo Games, the General Administration of Sport of China has launched a progressive talent selection program to identify and develop athletes from home and abroad.
The administration has formed a leading group with the four respective sporting bodies and Beijing Sport University to run the program, which opened an online registration system on Monday to receive applications from Chinese talent at home, foreign athletes of Chinese ancestry and Chinese citizens living abroad.
Online registration on the university’s website will be open through Aug 31, followed by an audition and two rounds of qualification tests with a two-month training camp to eventually select 50 athletes for each of the sports by the end of this year.
An international experts panel consisting of coaches, physical trainers, nutritionists and psychologists with expertise in the four sports, which are currently underdeveloped in China, will assess and guide the registrants.
The program will reach out to countries with strengths in such “extreme sports”, such as the United States, Australia and Brazil, to search for established talent with Chinese origins. It would attract them to represent China with stipends and policies on nationality-transfer procedures if necessary, according to the leading group.
“Due to the lack of talent in these niche sports in China, it is the shortcut that we have to take to prepare for Tokyo in such a short period of time,” said Cao Weidong, director of the leading group and Party chief of Beijing Sport University.
“The reform also is being implemented by overhauling the traditional athletic talent drafting system and by expanding it to the grassroots and extending its reach overseas.”
It intends to expand the nation’s Olympic prowess beyond traditional strong sports including table tennis, badminton and diving.
One example is the Chinese Ice Hockey Association organizing tryout camps in the Canadian cities of Toronto and Vancouver in June to select young players of Chinese ancestry to join the national program through naturalization for the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics.
“To channel overseas talent to the national system, with support in policy and logistics, is an experiment of great significance to improve our relatively weak sports quickly," said Liu Xiaonong, director of the athletic department of sports administration.
However, persuading some excellent overseas talent to abandon foreign citizenship to be eligible to represent China remains a challenge, given that China doesn’t accept dual citizenship, observers said.
“Still, strong support within China’s State-run sports system will appeal to a certain group of overseas Chinese who couldn't join the mainstream athletic systems in their adopted countries," said Zhang Bing, a sports sociology expert at Tsinghua University.
New events that will be introduced at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics are BMX freestyle riding, skateboarding, surfing and climbing.