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China facing pivotal moment in sports

By Global Times/ Mark Dreyer 14 Sep 2015

As summer fades and the ­temperatures start to drop, the next few months could prove crucial in China's sporting ­development.

Accurate figures charting public participation in sports are notoriously hard to come by in a country as large and diverse as China, but a groundswell of change does appear to be underway. 

After significant reforms in grass-roots soccer earlier this year and more recent events such as the 2015 World Athletics Championships that have raised the profile of future Chinese sporting heros, such as sprinter Su Bingtian and high jumper Zhang Guowei, there seems to be more of a buzz about activity than in the past.

Parks are full not just of children playing and ­pensioners walking, but of people of all ages out for a jog. Basketball and tennis courts are full, while it can be hard to book soccer fields.

But while the weather ­remains temperate in the south all year round, much of the north has a very clear divide ­between summer and winter.

Will those joggers still be pounding the streets once the temperatures plummet? If not, will the gyms be full instead, or will millions turn to winter sports as the government hopes they will in the long run-up to the 2022 Winter Olympics?

The Dalian Wanda Group made a hefty bet on China's sporting future last month, shelling out $650 million to take control of the Ironman triathlon group. But for that to turn into a worthwhile investment, they need mass participation in China for running, cycling and swimming, not just the Olympic elite or the hardcore few.

The company's goal is to boost the number of Chinese participants who can run a full marathon after completing a 3.9-kilometer swim and a 180-kilometer bike ride to 200,000 within the next decade - up from just 100 today. But to get that number of people willing to put themselves through such a grueling task, the base of recreational runners, swimmers and cyclists must grow on an unprecedented scale.

Perhaps more Chinese athletes will emerge who will capture the hearts of the public and inspire the next generation. ­Officials could also do their part, and be photographed enjoying sport more often, as past Chinese leaders have done.

But one way or another, ­China must find a way to kick on from this good start and continue to ride the wave of athletic participation. It will help China's sports industry, but, more importantly, it will help China's people.

Taken from Global Times

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