To anyone familiar with China’s Olympic team and individual performances, including No 1 medal ranking in the 2008 Games, the goal of building a strong sporting nation by 2050 might already seem outdated.
Nonetheless, through reforms of key sports, promotion of mass fitness and development of balanced athletic prowess, that is the aim under a national sport outline.
Released this week by the State Council, China’s cabinet, the plan is to accelerate a number of aspects of sports development, including public participation, high-level performance and international sports exchange, with preferential policies and funding, better facilities and mass fitness activities.
According to the outline, residents will have better access to sports facilities through the efforts of finance, education, urban development and planning authorities.
As a result, by 2035, 45 per cent of the population is expected to be involved in medium intensity exercise three times a week, up from 33.9 per cent last year.
Hopefully, apart from the health and fitness benefits, the drive for greater participation in sport will create the environment for natural talent to rise to the surface as the future sporting elite, rather than by officials picking “winners” to be nurtured in the rigid state sports system.
That is the surest way of further lifting China’s international sports profile. Evidence of this is to be found in the fame, success and national pride in double grand slam tennis title winner Li Na and basketball superstar Yao Ming, both breakaways from the stifling effect of a prescriptive state system.
Given that President Xi Jinping is the country’s No 1 soccer fan, with his heart set on seeing China qualify for the World Cup, hosting one and winning one, it is no surprise that the development of soccer figures prominently in the plan.
Li Jianming, a deputy director of the General Administration of Sport, said one of the priorities was to raise the competitive level of the national soccer programme while building greater participation at the grass roots.
In a positive move for those twin ambitions, a shake-up of the Chinese Football Association has placed professional executives and former players in top leadership positions instead of government officials. (Source: SCMP)