Athletes look to life beyond sports
But lack of education hampering transition to new careers
Chinese Olympians looking beyond sporting glory to start new lives are being hampered by a lack of education, according to a former champion speed skater.
With the 2016 Rio Olympics drawing to a close on Sunday, a group of Chinese athletes have set their sights on retirement or taking indefinite leave from sports after years of rigorous training, sometimes at the cost of family life.
Following the practice of their predecessors, champion athletes still favor offers from within the country’s State-run sports system to become coaches and team management officials, extending their athletic skills to help a newgeneration.
All national teams in China’s six strong events— including table tennis, badminton and gymnastics — competing in Rio are guided by former champion head coaches.
“That’s why Chinese table tennis could continue to dominate the world for ages, because they chose to stay to pass on their knowledge and experience,” said Zhang Jike, men’s table tennis singles silver medalist in Rio.
He was referring coach Liu Guoliang, Olympic champion Atlanta Games.
Many of China’s former sporting heroes have become government or sports management officials, operating in their respective fields.
According to the General Administration of Sport of China, 163 Chinese Olympic champions had retired by last month. Beijing newspaper The Mirror found that nearly 60 percent of them had been employed as officials by government departments.
Notable athletes who have become officials include four-time Olympic champion table tennis player Deng Yaping. In 2009, she was appointed a deputy secretary of the BeijingMunicipal Committee of the Communist Youth League of China before being moved to the post of secretary-general of People’s Daily.
Wang Li, a sports management professor at Beijing Sport University, said: “To appoint high-profile former athletes, especially those from the country’s traditional events, as officials is a reward for their hardworkas well as acommon practice to promote the solidarity embodied by their careers.”
With the boundary between sports and entertainment becoming blurred, the new generation of sports celebrities, such as star swimmer Sun Yang, have sensed an opportunity to embrace showbiz.
Handing Yuyou Media Group in Zhejiang province said in June it had signed a contract with Sun, who will become the company’s first contracted entertainer.
Although he has yet to retire, the deal has paved way for Sun, who won the men’s 200m freestyle in Rio, to cash in on his popularity for a newcareer in entertainment. He is not alone. A glittering array of retired sports stars, including Olympic men’s diving champion Tian Liang, gymnastics champion LiXiaopeng and twotime to his head a three-time at the 1996 Yang Yang, tennis Grand Slam winner Li Na have all tried their hands at TV acting and appearances on reality shows.
But Yang Yang, a former champion speed skater who is an International Olympic Committee member, said more all-around education and occupational training should be provided for a wider range of retired athletes — not just stars — to make the transition from sports to other workplaces.
“We’ve witnessed many sad stories of former champions struggling to make a living without sufficient skills and knowledge when their athletic fame dims. The lack of education in their early years should be made up,” said Yang, who won China’s first Winter Olympic gold medal in the women’s 500m at the 2002 Salt Lake Winter Games.
The most typical case Yang mentioned was that of Ai Dongmei, a former national marathon champion, who planned to sell all her medals in 2007 when she was unemployed.
To help fellow retired athletes rediscover their post-sports careers, Yang set up the Champion Foundation in Beijing in 2011, providing former athletes with language, occupational and human resource education.
We’ve witnessed many sad stories of former champions struggling to make a living without sufficient skills and knowledge ... ” a former speed skater
Two-time Grand Slam winner Li Na at a promotional event in Nanjing, Jiangsu province, on May, 2016.
Former NBA star Yao Ming watches a game in Shanghai during last year’s NCAA China Tour.