Sports schools used to nurture China’s medalists, but are short of students now

Source:Global Times Published: 2016/7/31 18:23:39

A group of kids sweat on the balance beam in the Fuzhou Sport School on Friday. Photo: CFP

Since returning to the Olympic Games in 1980, China has won over 500 medals. In the 2008 Beijing Olympics, China led the world in the number of gold medals attained. Four years later in London, China was second in the gold medal list after the US.

However, on the eve of the Rio Olympic Games, the country's sports training system seems to be on the verge of breaking down.

Around 95 percent of China's Olympic gold medalists attended one of the country's 2,183 physical education schools. In 1990, there were 3,687 such schools.

Less and less parents want to put their children through such tough training, and some schools have been forced to shut down due to a lack of students.

Huang Qin (pseudonym), the Party secretary at a sports training school in Shanghai, said that this is the biggest challenge facing his school.

"In the 1980s and 1990s, schools like ours were attractive," said Huang. At that time, the subsidies and incentives offered by these schools were highly valued.

"However, if children can cope with school work, most parents these days do not wish to send them to sports schools. We're lacking students because society places more importance on academic education," Huang added.

The debate over the sports school system reignited around the 2008 Beijing Games. Many were concerned that retired athletes lacked the education needed to be successful outside the world of sport, and worried about the need to balance children's physical and intellectual education.

To tackle these problems, the central government demanded sports school raise the level of education offered to children and provide more help to retired athletes.

Shanghai Sports School has only taken in young athletes who pass cultural exams since 2012.

In China, the dogmatic ideology is that education and training are two separate routes. "If you want to become a world champion, you couldn't study anything else. This is totally wrong. In this way, not many could reach the top," said the principal Sheng Maowu.

In March this year an official survey found that many sports schools were failing to invest enough in academic education and some had outright ignored the government's demands.

Girls perform gymnastics in front of the national flag. Photo: CFP


A boy swings on the rings in the gymnasium. Photo: CFP


A young girl works on the balance beam. Photo: CFP


Child athletes nap in a dormitory of the Fuzhou Sport School. Photo: CFP


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