China hits ground running for 2022 Olympics
BEIJING — Ten years after the flame was extinguished at the Beijing Summer Olympics, the legacy of the Games continues to benefit sports development in China as the country prepares for a winter encore in 2022.
Despite the steamy summer heat at Beijing Olympic Forest Park on the north side of the capital, sweat-soaked runners managed smiles as they jostled for position on Saturday afternoon.
Built for the 2008 Olympics, the park features a 10-kilometer walking and running track that wends its way through a forest of greenery. The track has become a runners’ paradise since the country shifted its sporting focus from winning medals to promoting fitness for everyone in the post-Games era.
“It’s become part of my weekend routine. If I missed my running session and did something else, I would feel uncomfortable all day,” said Lin Kunyi, an amateur marathon runner who began training at the park in 2013.
Running’s popularity provides just a glimpse of the country’s increasing fascination with fitness inspired by the 2008 Olympics, as the central government aims to build a healthier nation by 2030.
Beijing 2008 boasted a spectacular opening ceremony, deft organisation and athletic milestones such as US swimmer Michael Phelps’ eight gold medals and Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt’s record-breaking 100-meter sprint. The 2008 Games have been enshrined in the history of the modern Olympic movement with such memories to inspire future generations.
With a series of celebrations for the 10th anniversary taking place across China, the thoughts of leading figures in the sports community shed light on the huge effect the event has had on the country.
Thomas Bach, president of the International Olympic Committee, said via a video message during a celebration ceremony at Beijing’s Olympic Park on Aug 8: “The Beijing Olympics made history 10 years ago. Today’s celebration reminds us of the great success of 2008.
“We will always remember the fantastic opening ceremony, which amazed the world with the rich and profound culture of China,” said the former Olympic fencing champion from Germany.
“The 2008 Games defined moments of sporting inspiration and they left an extraordinary legacy for China and Beijing… China has every reason to be proud of its Olympic legacy,” Bach said.
Observers said that by hosting the Games smoothly and topping the medals tally with 51 golds, China showed the world its sporting, economic and social progress achieved through decades of reform and opening-up, and more important, building a confident image at a critical time for its ambitions to play a more prominent role in international affairs.
Ren Hai, a sports sociology professor at Beijing Sport University, said, “There was no better platform and timing than the 2008 Olympics for China to flex its muscles in not just competitive sports but all aspects of development during two weeks of intense global exposure.”
The Games served as a window for the world to understand China in an unprecedented intensive and direct manner, Ren added.
As an illustration of China’s strength in infrastructure development, major venues built for 2008 still host sports and entertainment events, while in some previous host cities such venues sit idle.
Venues that remain busy in Beijing include the National Stadium, better known as the Bird’s Nest, which hosted the opening and closing ceremonies, soccer and track and field competitions in 2008.
As a major selling point for Beijing’s successful bid for the 2022 Winter Olympics, the reuse of eight of the venues in the city used in 2008, including the Bird’s Nest, along with upgrading and transformation work, will see new life breathed into them for competitive and non-competitive purposes in four years’ time.
The Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics will use a total of 26 venues in the downtown area, the city’s north-western Yanqing district and in co-host city Zhangjiakou in Hebei province.
The reuse of facilities, coupled with the IOC’s support to optimize savings in venue operation, broadcasting and transportation is expected to significantly cut the 2022 hosting costs for Beijing, said Christophe Dubi, the IOC’s executive director for the Olympic Games.
“There is absolutely no doubt about Beijing 2022 being cost-effective,” he said during a debriefing in the city in June on the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
“These legacy venues from the 2008 Summer Olympics have given Beijing a huge advantage in making the future Olympics much more sustainable and cost-effective,” Dubi said.
Beijing’s regulatory body for construction confirmed last week that transformation work on five existing venues, including the National Aquatics Centre and National Indoor Stadium, which hosted swimming and handball, respectively, in 2008, had begun, with a completion deadline of the second half of next year.
The indoor stadium will be upgraded with an ice rink to host men’s ice hockey in 2022, while the aquatics centre, dubbed the Water Cube, will feature retractable structures to provide a frozen surface for the curling competition.
Upgrading work at three more Beijing 2008 venues－the Bird’s Nest, the Wukesong Arena and the National Conventional Centre－will take place in 2020. They will be transformed for the 2022 opening and closing ceremonies, women’s ice hockey and media operations.
Bao Mingxiao, a researcher with the Centre for Development of Sports Industry at Tsinghua University, said that with the transformation work for 2022 and commercial events such as concerts and entertainment shows being staged, Beijing has set an example for Olympic host cities in the post-Games operation of permanent facilities. This is despite challenges in using some technical and temporary venues.
“Making use of highly technical and professional sports venues for commercial and civil functions is a global issue, not just one in China,” Bao said of international media reports on the disuse of the white-water canoeing centre and BMX cycling track for the 2008 Olympics.
“Beijing has already taken a lead among its fellow Olympic hosts in operating most of the permanent venues in urban areas, while its counterparts such as Sydney, Athens and Rio de Janeiro are still struggling to find post-event solutions for their own main venues.”
With its athletic prowess proven at the highest level by the 51 gold medals in 2008, (three weightlifters were stripped of them last year for doping violations), China is now focusing on building a healthier nation by rolling out a national fitness campaign.
From marathon mania to the square dance craze, Chinese are increasingly being bitten by the exercise bug, as evidenced by hot participation in celebrating the 10th National Fitness Day.
Since 2009, the fitness day has been held annually on Aug 8 to commemorate the opening of the 2008 Olympics.
Staged in the open area between the National Stadium and National Aquatics Centre, this year’s celebration involved 3,000 sports fans taking part in aerobic exercise, table tennis, badminton and soccer, despite sudden rainfall that drenched the city.
From Aug 4 to Sunday, about 3,500 mass fitness activities and grassroots sports events will have been held at major public venues, provincial Olympic sports centers and schools nationwide involving more than 90 million people as part of this year’s fitness day campaign, according to the General Administration of Sport of China, the country’s top sports governing body.
In his report to the opening session of the Communist Party of China’s 19th National Congress on Oct 18, General Secretary Xi Jinping urged the country’s sports sector to extensively promote mass fitness activities and to accelerate the construction of a strong sporting nation.
The progress achieved by China in the past five years in mass fitness has underlined such instruction from the top leadership.
Thanks to more accessible facilities, the proportion of Chinese who exercise at least three times a week with medium intensity had increased to 33.9 percent of the population by the end of 2015, an increase of 5.7 percentage points from 2007, according to the latest national fitness survey released by GASC in 2016.
By the end of 2015, the government had set up 573,580 sets of exercise equipment for free use, covering more than half the country’s cities and villages, and had trained nearly 2 million community sports instructors.
Meanwhile, GASC has been working with the finance, urban development and education ministries to ensure that State-owned stadiums, training bases and school facilities are open to the public more often.
Since 2014, the government has subsidized venues run by sports bureaus and State-owned training centers to ensure they remain open to the public.
According to the Ministry of Finance, the central government offered subsidies totaling 930 million yuan ($136 million) last year to support mass fitness functions at 1,257 sports venues. Total investment of 3.5 billion yuan has been made on this since 2014.
Previously, the annual allocation of subsidies mainly considered a venue by size and capacity, but from next year distribution will be based on the number of “ordinary exercisers” and the frequency of mass sporting events hosted by a venue as well as feedback from surrounding communities, according to GASC.
Sports Minister Gou Zhongwen said sport’s role in China’s journey to build a moderately prosperous society in all respects by 2020 should be further emphasised.
The administration will call on sports authorities, organisations and relevant units at all levels to take the mass fitness campaign to the next level as a national strategy to improve the health of people and build a stronger nation, Gou told China Sports Daily.
Equal importance will be given to mass sports promotion and development of the sports industry with the goal of winning medals at international events, Gou added.
A burgeoning industry
With sports being embraced as a lifestyle choice by an increasing number of health-conscious urban Chinese, the country’s bid to turn sports consumption into a new economic growth pillar is gaining momentum.
From plodding sweat-soaked exercisers at fitness clubs in major cities to excited crowds roaring on their heroes at professional basketball and soccer games, sports participation is rising.
Sports-related businesses in China generated 647.5 billion yuan in added value in 2016－17.8 per cent higher than the figure for 2015－contributing to a total industry scale of 1.9 trillion yuan by the end of 2016, according to the latest figures from the National Bureau of Statistics.
However, Zhao Yong, GASC’s deputy director, said the contribution of the sports industry to the country’s economic growth remains modest, with untapped potential in the service sector yet to be fully realised.
“The industry scale of sports-related businesses in our country is still not big enough compared with other sectors or the equivalent industry in Western sporting powers such as the United States,” Zhao said.
“The structure of the industry still needs to be diversified to explore more business opportunities in sports-related entertainment, leisure and the service sectors for more balanced growth in the future.”
According to national statistics, the sports industry’s added value accounted for 0.9 per cent of GDP in 2016, while market analysis released by Plunkett Research indicated that the same proportion in the US was as high as 3 percent in 2015.
Huang Haiyan, a sports industry professor with Shanghai Sports University, identified public consumption of intangible sporting products and services such as fitness guidance, ticketing and spending at venues as the “next frontier” to close this gap.
“Public demand for sports-related consumption has escalated from only purchasing sports equipment to a diversified package that includes various services and experience-based products, while the supply of these products still lags behind other countries,” Huang said.
According to official statistics, manufacturing and sales of sports goods remained the biggest contributor to the sports industry in 2016, accounting for 62.9 percent of the 1.9 trillion yuan volume, while the sports service sector took up 35.9 percent.
As China aims to build a 5 trillion yuan sports industry by 2025, more accessible exercise facilities, mass sporting centers and sports-related tourism destinations should be built, while a number of amateur sporting events should be organized, Huang said.
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