Shanghai just might become the new sports capital of China

By John Harold Armstrong Source:Global Times Published: 2017/9/11 18:08:39

Illustration: Chen Xia/GT

Shanghai is a city on the move. Not just figuratively, but in the streets and parks there is a pulsing wave of activity. At times this human torrent may appear to be adorned with a variety of polyester neon. Marathon season is upon us, and with the diminishing heat we see the annual reemergence of skintight sportswear.

If we factor in the official registration rates of the main Shanghai International Marathon, associated Fun Runs, The Color Run, corporate 10-kilometer challenges and charity runs that sprinkle the fall calendar, the number of amateurs running at distances that don't seem in any way reasonable is in the hundreds of thousands.

Lost amid discussions about China's rapid changes and the surreal pace of building development is public commentary on the rather remarkable change in the lifestyles of the Shanghainese. While hands wring over obesity rates and the tendency of Chinese youth to immerse themselves in video games, it nonetheless appears that couch potatoes are becoming a rare vegetable.

It is a stunning change that has taken place over the past decade. When I first arrived in Shanghai, it was rare to spot anything moving in a public park besides dancing aunties, elderly sword dancers and taijiquan practitioners. These days, the drive toward fitness and self-improvement is expanding local people's habits to less traditional exercise activities involving running, boxing, Crossfit and other workout hybrids.

Just this summer, new pedestrian bridges and walkways were completed along the already existing West Bund Cultural Corridor, providing links between some of Shanghai's largest and most pleasant waterfront spaces. While Century Park's running trail has been in operation for some time, these newly opened spaces link together continuous running loops that incorporate long-distance jogs, and with a little creativity and bridge crossing, even a marathon distance run can be achieved in a bucolic, traffic-free setting. Local and foreign athletes alike have responded enthusiastically to these developments with increased numbers showing up every weekend.

The national push for improvement in football is evidence of China's desire to break their own stereotype as small-ball specialists, but this effort may be overtaken by the emergence of a growing ability in endurance and team sports. It should not be surprising, as who has had to endure more than the Chinese people?

It's long past time that Shanghai should be eyeing a bid for an Olympic Games. And foreigners living and working in Shanghai should be voicing their support for this well deserved and long overdue event. It may seem a brief time since the torch burned in Beijing, but once already-awarded games come to pass it will seem like a significantly longer gap. Yes, China will host another Winter Olympic Games in the interim.

I submit that the Yangtze River Delta region fully deserves and is capable of hosting a sparkling international competition of this caliber and could host it with style and substance. Shanghai is blessed with a modern, efficient infrastructure as well as high-level sports facilities that rival any other global city. Clearly it has the fan base and the youthful demographic needed to provide volunteers.

I was fortunate enough to be able to volunteer in Beijing in 2008. It would be thrilling to do so again, but this time on the home turf of my adopted city. Foreign residents in Shanghai are able to provide unique and valuable skills in the international arena.

However, it's time to move beyond simply providing needed services when necessary, as important as that may be. We should be acting as advocates and lobbying in international circles for an Olympics to be held in the Yangtze River Delta region. High-level athletes and weekend warriors from the Bund to Wuxi, and from Changzhou to Ningbo, have shown their appetite and ability in their chosen sports.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Global Times.

Posted in: TWOCENTS

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