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Successful 2022 Winter Olympics bid will leave healthy sporting legacy in China: Yao Ming

By Channel NewsAsia 13 May 2015

The Chinese capital is competing against Kazakhstan's Almaty to host the 2022 Winter Olympics. If it wins, it will be the first city in the world to hold both the Summer and Winter Games.

Retired basketball legend Yao Ming is an ambassador for Beijing's bid for the 2022 Winter Olympics - and he said the 2008 Olympics had a huge impact on sport in the country.

"It's not all about winning gold, or for the honour of raising the flag in the stadium,” he said. “Sport is now a lifestyle here; I don’t think that would have happened if we didn't host the Olympics in 2008."

Critics have raised concerns that the arid city is not environmentally fit for the Games since billions of gallons of water will have to be used to create artificial snow.

"Sometimes we have to pay that cost” said Mr Yao. “Yes some of the stadiums are still empty after 2008, but many people have adopted a sporty lifestyle since then. They're going to the gym, and running is now very popular in China – in cities like Shanghai, Beijing and Guangzhou."

Yao Ming is passionate sports development in his country. When a government agency was tasked to develop football in schools, Mr Yao said that such a move would take away focus from other sports.

"We have to ask ourselves: What does sport mean to us?” he said, when asked about the issue of sports education in China. “What is PE (Physical Education) class for? First and foremost, it's there because we need to exercise to stay healthy and active."

While he continued to emphasise the importance of making sport part of everyone's lifestyle, he noted there were other issues to deal with. "There are the Olympics, World Championships and other professional leagues that draw a lot of attention - and the government wants to win,” he said “You have to take a  balanced approach.  If we only have football in school, that will be a little too boring. Sport is a game, after all. It should be fun first."

And that is exactly what the former NBA player hopes to foster by bringing his favourite game to remote village schools in China. Working with volunteers, Mr Yao started a junior basketball league in 2012 for students in the rural regions.

"Some of the schools are very short on teachers, so with very limited teaching resources, the school will keep those who teach important subjects like mathematics, languages, English and sports take a back seat,” said Mr Yao.

“We’re thinking of helping them rebuild the school, and organise more games between schools. We’d like those kids living in the mountains to have the opportunity to go to the big cities or travel to other schools to see how life is over there, and give them a different view."

He added: "We don’t necessarily want them to dream big - but to dream differently."

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