China is not fully utilizing its sports facilities, which are already fewer in number than those of other countries, relative to China’s huge population.
When the Rio Olympic Games concluded on August 21, Team China ranked third in the world with 70 medals, of which 26 were gold. Compared to the Beijing Olympics, in which China won 51 gold medals, or the London Olympics, in which it won 38, China’s performance this year was not as good as many had expected. However, compared to four or eight years ago, the Chinese public appears to have become less obsessed with gold medals than in the past. Many once held the opinion that the only thing that matters is being the best, but now viewers are more relaxed. This shift in attitudes can be seen in the popularity of Fu Yuanhui, a bronze medalist in swimming who became an instant celebrity for her unusual candor and wacky facial expressions in her post-competition interviews, something unimaginable in previous Games.
However, while ordinary Chinese have become more laid-back about the Olympics and are simply enjoying the competitions, there are other problems with China’s sports system that still need to be addressed. One of the most serious issues is the low level of public participation in sports.
For example, it is estimated that among the 1.4 billion people around the world who suffer from nearsightedness, a health problem associated with insufficient time spent outdoors as a child, 600 million, or 43 percent, are in China. Things have not changed for the better in recent years. According to figures released by China’s General Administration of Sport, a measurement of the general health of adult males in China declined by 0.1 percent from 2010 to 2014, with the health index of the whole population decreasing by 0.4 percent.
With a changed perspective toward the Olympics and less public pressure to pump up the medal count, the government should turn its efforts to promoting sports in the general population. In order to do that, the government should increase public access to China’s existing sports facilities, which are mostly constructed with taxpayer money. It is estimated that in 2011, only 44.1 percent of China’s State-owned sports facilities were open to the general public. 21.3 percent of them were partially open to the public and 34.6 percent were not open to the public at all. It means that China is not fully utilizing its sports facilities, which are already fewer in number than those of other countries, relative to China’s huge population.
The government should also increase the importance of physical education in the national school curriculum. Currently, according to a survey conducted by the newspaper Southern Weekly, 68.6 percent of children said they have less than two hours of physical exercise in school per week, which can have a major negative impact on their general health. According to data from 2015, 23.1 percent of Chinese teenagers are underweight and 16.8 percent are overweight, with both conditions posing serious health problems. In the past few months, the government has launched programs to set up soccer courses in schools across the country, which is a good start. In the future, the schools should offer more programs that include more diverse sports.
These changes will not only improve the population’s general health, they will also eventually lead to better performances by Chinese athletes in future Olympic Games, transforming China into a real sporting superpower.