China’s extraordinary sports journey from transformation to international triumphs
Published: Dec 27, 2023 09:32 PM
A group photo of China's national diving team Photo: IC

A group photo of China's national diving team Photo: IC

Editor's Note:

In 2023, a series of noteworthy topics have emerged in the Chinese cultural landscape. In the planning of the 2023 Cultural Gala, the Global Times will delve into nine important topics, aiming to showcase the multidimensional aspects of Chinese civilization and the diverse charms of Chinese culture.

This is the ninth installment of the Global Times' Year-end Special on culture, aimed at guiding readers through the development of sports in 2023. An anti-graft storm has swept through the industry, making the development of sports in the country more transparent and prosperous. Though the three major ball games - soccer, basketball, and volleyball - did not deliver significant athletic breakthroughs, other athletes are making history in other disciplines.

Chinese basketball player Li Meng Photo: VCG

Chinese basketball player Li Meng Photo: VCG

In the dynamic landscape of Chinese sports, the year 2023 has unfurled a captivating tapestry of transformation and triumph, interwoven with striking strings of corruption crackdowns and the pursuit of excellence on the global stage.

Against the backdrop of Paris 2024 Summer Olympics and Milan 2026 Winter Olympics preparation, the corridors of China's sports authority ring with the echoes of a renewed commit¬ment to transparency, accountability, and athletic integrity.

The country's top discipline body issued a directive to conduct a comprehensive inspection of the General Administration of Sport. A number of soccer-related officials were the subjects of a probe.

"This directive is not merely a reactive measure but a proactive stance to address challenges entrenched within the sports ecosystem," Mao Jiale, a seasoned sports commentator, told the Global Times.

"The mandate represents a pivotal moment in China's commitment to fostering a sports environment characterized by integrity, fair play, and institutional robustness."

As the sports professionals brace themselves for the upcoming Olympics, a management shake-up could better prepare them, particularly in the realm of the "three major ball games" - soccer, basketball, and volleyball.

Despite certain arenas offering less than desirable athletic results, with the women's basketball team standing as a beacon of success, 2023 is uniquely placed as a transformative year in the annals of Chinese sports.

Youth matter

The anti-corruption initiatives have not only led to short-term victories but have also sown the seeds for long-term athletic excellence.

A notable shift in the narrative of Chinese sports is the growing recognition of the imperative for youth-centric sporting events.

A consensus has emerged across diverse sectors, acknowledging the deficiency in youth competitions as a bottleneck in the cultivation of sporting talent.

Initiatives such as the Chinese Youth Football League and the National Youth Basketball Open have become vanguards in addressing this void, Zhang Qing, head of Beijing Key-Solution Sports Consulting, told the Global Times.

"This year also witnessed a frenzy of domestic soccer game attendance, highlighted by the Workers' Stadium in Beijing and the Phoenix Hill Stadium in Chengdu, though Chinese soccer continues to struggle," Zhang told the Global Times.

"This is a noticeable resurgence in momentum, signaling confidence in the future rise of Chinese soccer as it could inspire more kids to participate in the sport."

Song Kai, the newly appointed head of the Chinese Football Association, has been a vocal advocate for youth soccer.

Since assuming the new position in October 2023, Song has made significant strides toward strengthening a comprehensive nationwide youth soccer competition system.

In his latest discussions with FIFA officials, Song revealed that he has articulated China's aspiration to host the FIFA U-20 World Cup, signaling a commitment to shaping the future landscape of soccer on a global scale.

Fruitful season

The midsummer spectacle of the World Aquatics Championships showcased China's resurgence in aquatic sports.

The Chinese diving team, defying pre-competition skepticism, secured an astonishing 12 out of 13 gold medals, culminating in a near-perfect display of precision and skill. Undeterred, the Chinese swimming team added to the glory with 5 gold, 3 silver, and 8 bronze medals, securing third place in the overall swimming leaderboard.

In other professional sports, breakthroughs and historic achievements adorned the Chinese flag.

Zhang Zhizhen etched his name in tennis history with a series of stellar performances. On the golf greens, 20-year-old Yin Ruoning briefly ascended to the summit of women's golf, a testament to China's growing influence across diverse sporting disciplines.

Olympic legacy

The enchantment with winter sports, ignited by the resounding success of the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics, continues to blaze brightly.

The Olympic venues, once hallowed grounds for winter athletes, now host a plethora of international sporting events, showcasing the endurance and finesse of athletes in various cold-weather disciplines.

Among them, the allure of short-track speed skating remains unparalleled, with world-class athletes converging to captivate audiences and garner accolades.

The anti-corruption drive, coupled with strategic reforms, has not only cleansed the sports arena of malpractices but has also laid the foundation for a renaissance.

The narrative shifts from the shadows of corruption to the spotlight of triumphs, marking a turning point in China's sporting trajectory.

"The concerted efforts to address corruption within the sports administration reflect a commitment to ethical standards and good governance," Mao said.

"The government's proactive stance in investigating and rectifying corrupt practices underscores the acknowledgment of the corrosive impact of corruption on the integrity of sports."

He noted that the approach, coupled with stringent measures and reforms, aims to rebuild trust in the sports sector and create an environment conducive to the growth and development of athletes.

"The successes in various sporting disciplines underscore the multifaceted nature of China's sporting prowess," Mao said. "The world watches with anticipation, as China is still a sports powerhouse for the upcoming Paris Olympics."