Asian Games offers another reason for China to celebrate
Published: Sep 23, 2023 09:43 AM
Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

Sport remains one of the few international events still capable of bringing together people in the spirit of harmony and goodwill. Yes, the competing athletes want to win, but they are keen to demonstrate that values such as teamwork, honor and integrity form the heart of sport. Athletes who abide by those beliefs are celebrated, even if they do not win a medal, by fans all across the globe.

That spirit will soon be on display in the Chinese city of Hangzhou. Why? Because the Asian Games - delayed as so many international sports have been over the past couple of years - are set to begin on September 23 in Hangzhou. The event, originally scheduled for 2022, is expected to bring together athletes from more than 40 nations and regions scattered throughout Asia. Approximately 12,500 athletes are likely to compete, making this the largest Asian Games in history.

The athletes will participate in 40 sports, most of which feature in the Olympics. Other sports, not in the Olympics, most notably cricket, will also be included in the program. Spectators eager for next year's Summer Olympics would be wise to pay attention to what unfolds in Hangzhou because a sizable number of athletes participating in the Asian Games are also likely to be on the Olympic stage in 2024. 

Hangzhou becomes the third Chinese city to host the prestigious Asian Games; Beijing held that honor in 1990, as did Guangzhou in 2010. Of course, China has become the epicenter of international sport in recent years: Beijing has hosted the Olympics twice -2008 Summer Olympics and 2022 Winter Olympics - over a 14-year period; Nanjing was home to the 2013 Asian Youth Games; Chengdu held the delayed Universiade earlier this year.

These, as well as other lesser known events, affirm China's significant place on the global sports stage. And commendations are everywhere. Consider that earlier this year, International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach applauded China for advancing the "development of sport not only in China but on a global scale." Meanwhile, athletes and journalists were quick to recognize the effort undertaken by Chinese authorities to make the 2022 Winter Olympics safe for everyone.

And yet, the critics cannot accept when such accolades are afforded to China; they insist that bad news about the country must enter the media space, and those naysayers especially want that bad news prominently discussed when China is hosting important international events, such as the Asian Games. As a result, between now and October 8, the date the current edition of the Asian Games ends, you should expect governments hostile to China will seek to poke holes in the positive narrative China is displaying in Hangzhou.

There will be lots of talk about China's economy being in the tank. Meanwhile, the White House continues to bang the drum that China is an irresponsible actor on the diplomatic stage. But is it? Journalists and others would be wise to consult with the Conference Board, a global think tank that examines short-term and long-term global economic growth. It has been suggested that the global economy will likely grow by 2.9 percent in 2023. China is one country responsible for that surge. According to the Conference Board, the Chinese economy will likely grow by 4.8 percent this year, far ahead of the US (estimated at 2.2 percent) and Europe (estimated at a paltry 0.6 percent). 

International sport still matters. Regardless of the country we rooted for in the recent World Cup, who among us did not celebrate when the great Lionel Messi finally won that event? Did we not share in the radiant joy of Gu Ailing, who earned three medals, two of them gold, at the 2022 Winter Olympics? Those athletes and many more like them remain in our memories because of their skill but also their humility.

The victorious athletes at the upcoming Asian Games would be wise to show the same virtues. Come to think of it, China's critics might be wise to display them as well.

The author is an associate professor at the Department of Communication and Organizational Leadership at Robert Morris University. opinion@globaltimes.com.cn