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Olympic Powerhouse

China’s status as one of the key pillars of the Olympic Movement was secured last month after Beijing won the vote to become the first city to host both the summer and winter Olympics. Mark Dreyer, editor of China Sports Insider, tells us what impact it has had on the rest of the country. 

It was billed as the Olympics that no one wanted to bid for. 

Beijing went from being outsiders to favourites before winning a close-run vote against Almaty, and in 2022 it will become the first city to host both a Summer and winter Games. Following PyeongChang in 2018 and Tokyo in 2020, Beijing will be the third successive Olympics in Asia, but many in China simply argue that this will redress the balance.

After all, they say, Europe has hosted 30 Olympics in the modern era, while the USA has held eight, so a second one in China – just 14 years after 2008 – should not raise any eyebrows.In fact, hosting a second Games so soon after the first provides what Julian Gornall-Thode, vice president at Chinese consulting firm Shankai Sports, described as “a good story when it comes to infrastructure legacy”.  Gornall- Thode, who used to work for the International Olympic Committee (IOC), added, “Few cities can directly use facilities that were specifically built, or used for, an earlier Olympics”.

To emphasise that point, Beijing 2022 will reuse 11 out of 12 venues from Beijing 2008, but are those venues actually being used by the Chinese people? 

Shoto Zhu, founder and president of sports marketing firm Oceans Marketing, said there has long been a discussion about whether China should put more money towards developing elite sports or instead turn towards developing grassroots sports.

“The emphasis was shifting towards the latter, but the Olympics have forced China to focus on elite sports, especially given the necessity to win medals at a home Olympics, so in some ways hosting the Olympics has actually delayed the development of grassroots sports,” Zhu told SportBusiness International.

Legacy Lessons

Others point out that more than three million people visit and swim in the National Aquatics Center, known as the Water Cube, every year. “People do seem to be more active, because there are now more facilities,” said Gornall-Thode. “There is now a consciousness about sports that didn’t exist before the 2008 Games.”

Authorities are aiming to take that consciousness and turn it into a habit. 

“We want to show our country that outdoor physical fitness is not something that begins in April and ends in October,” said Wang Hui, director of communications for the Beijing 2022 Bid Committee. “We are confident that we will inspire 300 million Chinese people to pick up a hockey stick, a pair of figure skates or a snowboard.” 

The reference to 300 million was one first made by Chinese President Xi Jinping, who appeared to say in support of Beijing’s 2022 bid that hosting a winter Olympics would see nearly a quarter of China’s population throw themselves into winter sports, a claim that drew a fair amount of scrutiny. But Wang said President Xi was merely referring to the regional population of north-east China, a convenient rephrasing with the IOC’s votes having already been counted.

A decade or two ago, winter sports barely existed in China, except in the far north, with residents from Heilongjiang province, which borders Russia, accounting for a large percentage of the 55 medals China has won across 10 winter Games.

“Now it’s very easy in Beijing to go out skiing for a day trip or for the weekend,” said Gornall-Thode. “There are ice rinks popping up all over Beijing. All of this is a fairly recent development, and I think the successful Olympic bid will continue that. The accessibility and availability of winter sports has been increased.”

Zhu, though, is yet to be convinced: “A lot of people think that winter sports will boom in the next seven years, but I’m not so optimistic. Sports bureaus will spend more money on elite sports to win more medals. Less than half of the country has any experience in winter sports. It’s just not part of their daily lives.”

Great Expectations

Zhu said the government wants China’s sports industry to grow its annual revenue to around $800bn within 10 years – the United States sports industry, by comparison, currently has revenues of around $500bn per year – so that sports can contribute significantly to the all-important GDP.

But in the age of austerity – and the restrictions that have come with the IOC’s Agenda 2020 – Beijing’s next Olympics may have to be far more muted. “When Beijing hosted the 2008 Olympics, much was made about it being China’s coming out party,” said Gornall-Thode. “But the very nature of a winter Olympics is that it’s a smaller, more local event.”

Yi Jiandong, director of the sport school at Jiangxi University of Finance and Economics, said Chinese people and government agree an Olympic Games should be more economical, though costs still have the potential to spiral. Wang added that improving pollution was made a priority for these authorities “long before the idea of Beijing 2022 came into existence”, but cleaning up the environment will not be cheap. Likewise, Beijing’s distinct lack of snow can be compensated for by machines, but only at a great deal of expense.

Much of that burden will fall to sponsors, and Olympic partners such as Samsung are already broadcasting Olympic ads on Chinese screens. While the official committee has yet to confirm any names in the 2022 sponsorship portfolio, Yi said Chinese companies have already showed their enthusiasm.

“There will be the obvious categories, such as sportswear, banking and telecoms,” said Gornall-Thode, “But as long as there is no conflict with The Olympic Partner programme, there may well be some outliers.”

Zhu expects to see some clean energy companies in the mix – ironic, perhaps, given Beijing’s pollution problem, but another example of how China doesn’t just want to catch up to the rest of the world, it wants to lead the way.

China would not hesitate to bid for the World Cup

Future in Football

China’s Olympic ambitions fit into a wider plan, according to experts working in the country.

As Beijing was preparing to host the International Association of Athletic Federations (IAAF) World Championships last month, news arrived that China had been awarded the 2019 International Basketball Federation (FIBA) World Cup.

This is just the latest in a long line of sporting events headed to the Middle Kingdom, a growing reflection of China’s rise as governing bodies around the world see increasing potential for their respective sports.

But the jewel in the crown – even above the Olympics – would be the Fifa World Cup.

“China would not hesitate to bid for the World Cup,” said Yi Jiandong, director of the sport school at Jiangxi University of Finance and Economics. Zhu acknowledged that Fifa’s latest rules would prevent China from bidding until 2034, given that the Asian Football Confederation will already host the 2022 tournament in Qatar. But he adds that China will bid for the World Cup as soon as it is allowed, citing a variety of political reasons behind that desire, such as uniting the country and improving China’s international image.

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