Fact Check
Time to get on the ball
By Lan Xinzhen  ·  2023-06-21  ·   Source: NO.26 JUNE 29, 2023


On the evening of June 15, a soccer friendly between Argentina and Australia took place at the newly rebuilt Workers' Stadium in the Sanlitun commercial area just east of central Beijing. Exorbitant ticket prices of 580-4,800 yuan ($81-670) did not deter fans. The stadium was packed with spectators eagerly awaiting the match. Outside the stadium, cheering crowds were clamoring for a glimpse of superstar Lionel Messi. Beijing police even warned the public of scammers trying to cash in on the "Messi mania" that had gripped the city since the soccer star's arrival on June 10.

These "manic scenes" are not uncommon in China. In 2019, tickets for the U.S. National Basketball Association (NBA) China Games in Shanghai and Shenzhen sold for as low as 350 yuan ($49) and as high as 18,888 yuan ($2,637), but still not everyone wanting to get a ticket was able to. Even though these matches did not involve Chinese teams, they still aroused the enthusiasm of hardcore basketball fans. Today, after adjusting its COVID-19 control policy late last year, China warmly welcomes the return of international sports events.

People's intense passion for athletic events can be explained from two perspectives:

First, China's national plans to become a strong sports nation by 2035 have fueled popular enthusiasm for athletic competitions. Chinese society holds the consensus that the center of social and economic development is holistic human development. This concept is understood to mean the full development of the human being in mental and physical terms, as well as in individual and social terms.

For example, the Nationwide Physical Fitness Program, with an emphasis on young people and children, has encouraged everyone, from urban to rural areas, to engage in at least one sporty activity every day, learn at least two ways of keeping fit and get a medical check every year. According to a 2020 national fitness survey, the number of residents exercising regularly had exceeded 400 million, right on track to reach the country's goal of more than 500 million (38.5 percent of the population) by 2025.

This increasing devotion to being active has in turn sparked an eager interest in sports events. Soccer and basketball games, marathons and bicycle races are gaining popularity among Chinese people. At present, however, neither domestic nor international sporting events in China can meet consumer demand. This explains why tickets for international events, like the Argentina-Australia match, tend to sell out so quickly.

Second, with more people joining the middle-income group, Chinese urbanites in particular are looking to lift their material and cultural lives. In addition to modern sports facilities for physical exercise, they also want the opportunity to catch a high-level sports game.

In recent years, rising costs have discouraged Western countries from hosting international sporting events. The COVID-19 pandemic, of course, didn't help matters either. But China has hosted several major events, including the 2022 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games. And this September, Hangzhou in Zhejiang Province will host the Asian Games, postponed by one year due to the pandemic.

By organizing these major competitions, China not only supports world sports, but also tries to cater to the growing taste for athleticism at home. In search of business opportunities, some companies and organizations have invited world-famous teams and names in soccer, basketball, track and field, cycling, and others, to compete in China. Sports fans nationwide in turn reward these organizers by turning them some serious profits.

China's sports sector has yet to reach its full potential. Today, it is foraying into the organization of international events and the provision of recreational sports services. But to develop into a major sports power will require China's sports sector to really get on the ball.

Copyedited by Elsbeth van Paridon 

Comments to lanxinzhen@cicgamericas.com 

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