Hosting international events fuels public participation in sports
Faster, stronger and higher
Published: Dec 27, 2023 09:47 PM
Fans watch a Village Super League match in Rongjiang county, Southwest China's Guizhou Province. Photo: VCG

Fans watch a Village Super League match in Rongjiang county, Southwest China's Guizhou Province. Photo: VCG

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 eighth installment of the Global Times' Year-end Special on culture, which gives some insights into how hosting international multisport events fueled the fervor of mass participation in sports in China.

In the first year since the end of the COVID-19 pandemic, China has demonstrated its capability and commitment to opening-up by successfully hosting two major international multisport events, setting new athletic records while elevating mass participation in sports to new heights. 

From July 28 to August 8, Chengdu in Southwest China's Sichuan Province became the third Chinese mainland city after Beijing and Shenzhen to host an edition of the World University Games. Some 6,500 ­student-athletes from 113 countries and regions participated in the Chengdu Universiade, which also marked the first time that an international multisport event was held in the western part of China.

With its focus on benefiting the public and making the competition an exceptional experience, the Chengdu Universiade not only made dreams come true for hundreds of athletes but also inspired enthusiasm for wellness and sports around China. 

The International University Sports Federation (FISU) Acting President Leonz Eder emphasized that Chengdu made many dreams come true and that the Games showcased the importance of communication, understanding and learning from different cultures.

The Chengdu Games fully released the sports potential of local people and injected an athletic spirit into the city. To prepare for the multisport event, Chengdu built, renovated and expanded 49 venues and made sports parks, greenways and new fitness spaces available to residents. The per capita area of sports facilities in Chengdu exceeded 2.4 square meters. According to a report by the Sichuan provincial government, residents in Chengdu enjoy the best public sports service quality in the country.

Concluded in October, the 19th Asian Games saw at least 12,000 athletes from 45 countries and regions across Asia sharing unforgettable moments in Hangzhou, East China's Zhejiang Province. It was China's third time hosting the continental multisport event, after Beijing in 1990 and Guangzhou in 2010.

With break dancing and esports making their debut as official medal sports, the Hangzhou Asian Games featured 40 sports, 61 disciplines and 481 events. China won 201 gold, 111 silver and 71 bronze medals, finishing top of the medal table for the 11th consecutive time since 1982, surpassing its previous record of 199 golds at Guangzhou 2010.

"We have had one of the best Asian Games ever," Olympic Council of Asia Acting Director-General Vinod Kumar Tiwari said at the closing press conference. "The standard of the Games has been very, very high."

Spectators watch a match at the Hangzhou Asian Games. Photo: VCG

Spectators watch a match at the Hangzhou Asian Games. Photo: VCG

Lasting legacy for public

Notably, Hangzhou has fulfilled its commitment to deliver sustainable and green Games as only 12 of the 56 venues were newly built and the rich legacies of the Games have continued to benefit local residents since before and after the Asian multisport showpiece.

Hangzhou came up with a hybrid model of opening the venues to the public, which combines mass fitness, youth training bases and the hosting of large-scale professional sports events.

Mao Genhong, chief spokesperson of the Hangzhou Asian Games, told the Global Times that the Games have yielded dividends in three aspects for the city. 

First, the venues and facilities give people better access to fitness. The per capita sports area increased from 1.8 square meters to 2.75 square meters over a period of eight years. Second, the Asian Games helped upgrade Hangzhou's infrastructure and the Para Games promoted the construction of barrier-free facilities and volunteerism. Last, the event drove the development of local sports. For example, the Tonglu Equestrian Center has laid a foundation for the future development of the industry, said Mao.

Liu Xi, a cycling enthusiast with a decade of experience, said that Hangzhou boasts an ideal cycling environment, with tailored cycling paths, thoughtful drivers and a temperate climate that makes it a perfect destination for cyclists. 

Both the Chengdu Universiade and Hangzhou Asian Games served as a testament to China's commitment to achieving sporting excellence while inspiring the public to take part in fitness activities.

Mass fitness in full swing

Riding on the wave of the international sports events, the national fitness drive has earned a purple patch this year as sports have become part of a growing number of people's lifestyles. 

The village soccer and basketball leagues in Southwest China's Guizhou Province have made a huge splash across the country, attracting thousands of spectators per game and leading to a groundbreaking partnership between a Chinese grassroots soccer league and the English Premier League. 

The first partnership project, named "Premier Skills," kicked off in December as 44 soccer coaches from local schools in Rongjiang county, Guizhou, the birthplace of the "Cun Chao" (Village Super League), took part in soccer clinics conducted by the British Council's soccer development manager. 

Xu Bo, governor of Rongjiang county, told the Global Times that combining sports and culture is key to the success of the Village Super League.

"Village soccer and basketball games represent the original form of sports returning to community-oriented activities," Sun Lei, a Beijing-based soccer commentator, told the Global Times. 

"These team sports, reliant on kinship and geographical ties, have fostered a community sports culture and the essence of sports as entertainment for the masses. Naturally formed communities also enable sports to become a way of socializing," Sun noted. 

Road running events have also seen a surge in participation in 2023. According to statistics from the Chinese Athletics Association, there are more than 30 million road-running enthusiasts in China. In the first half of 2023, a total of 303 road-running events took place across the country.

Village marathon events held in rural areas have made their mark thanks to unique folk customs and picturesque landscapes.

Xu Guochen, a Beijing-based regular marathon runner, told the Global Times that the village marathon is less about competition and more about the joy of experiencing rural life.

"City marathons might be boring sometimes, while running through the mountains, rivers, and farmland is like an excursion," Xu said. 

As China's 10th National Public Ice and Snow Season kicked off in December, some 2,000 activities will take place across the country in the coming four months to drive public participation in winter sports.

Hosting international sports events has nurtured a strong sports atmosphere and largely fueled the fervor of mass participation in sports. The legacies of the events will help promote the high-quality development of the national fitness cause, said Ma Tianping, an associate professor at the Beijing Sport University.