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China Digest | North Korean Pyeongchang involvement inches closer

Weekly round-up of sports business news from the Chinese sports industry.

North Korea’s Pyeongchang involvement inches closer

Further progress has been made in the bid to include North Korea in the upcoming Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, with the latest reports saying an orchestra from north of the border may join the official delegation. A unified team in women’s ice hockey will also be discussed by the IOC board in Lausanne on January 20. North Korea has reportedly requested additional talks at the truce village of Panmunjom this Wednesday, though it is unclear if Seoul has agreed to that request. Meanwhile, South Korea – which maintains a Unification Ministry – has proposed the two countries march together during the opening and closing ceremonies. The South Korean Paralympic Committee has said it plans to invite the North to the Paralympics, with two Para Nordic skiers thought to be under consideration. As North Korea’s only ally, China has a vested interest in the outcome of these talks and has successfully played counterpoint to Washington’s bluster over the nuclear issue. Beijing will host the next Winter Games four years from now and so is particularly keen to ensure a smooth transition.

Referendum could create ‘Team Taiwan’ at next Olympics

Reunification – with Taiwan, which China considers one of its provinces – is a subject close to Beijing’s heart; Taiwan is compelled to compete under the “Chinese Taipei” banner at the Olympics and elsewhere. Since the more independently-minded DPP came to power in Taiwan two years ago, there has been a shift towards greater recognition for the island. In the latest development, civil groups are calling for a referendum ahead of this year’s midterm election, which, if successful, could see “Team Taiwan” compete at the 2020 Olympics. It’s an issue that surfaces from time to time depending on the ebb and flow of Taiwanese politics, but with recent editorials speculating on whether China might take Taiwan by force in 2020, don’t underestimate the sensitivity of this issue for Beijing.

Pyeongchang agrees social media partnership with Weibo

The Pyeongchang Organising Committee has agreed a strategic partnership with Chinese social media platform Weibo. Under the terms of the deal, Weibo users will receive Games-related news, video clips and an athlete popularity ranking through POCOG’s official Weibo account. It’s a continuation of Weibo’s Olympic partnership from Rio, with the company saying it wants to drive interest in winter sports ahead of Beijing 2022. At launch in August 2009, Sina Weibo revolutionized China’s social media landscape until heavy censorship of political news and the rise of messaging app and rival WeChat saw users desert Weibo in droves. But Weibo has made a dramatic comeback in recent years and is now the go-to destination for anything in the wider “entertainment” realm, making it an essential platform for international leagues, teams and athletes wanting to reach their Chinese fans.

State claims sport industry generated RMB 1.9tn in 2016

China’s General Administration of Sport and National Bureau of Statistics have jointly announced that the country’s sports industry generated RMB 1.9tn (€240bn/$295bn) in 2016, up 11.1 per cent year-on-year. The figures were revealed at the National Sports Industry Conference in Xiamen. The industry accounted for 0.9 per cent of GDP in 2016, with sports equipment manufacturing and the sports service sector the two leading sub-groups. In its quest to make it the largest sports industry in the world, the Chinese government has targeted an annual output of RMB 5tn by 2025. That figure has not been revised since it was first announced in 2014, and Chinese state media regularly quote analysts saying the country remains on track to meet that goal. It is worth pointing out that verification of Chinese data is essentially impossible, and few economists trust the NBS to paint an accurate picture of China’s economy.

Departments release three-year plan for cycling

Cycling has been one of the growth areas within the sports sector, and the government has just released a three-year plan for the sport. In a sign of just how bureaucratic China is, eleven different government departments – including the Health and Family Planning Commission – jointly declared that China should host 5,000 cycling events by 2020, up from more than 2,000 events in 2016. China currently has more than 10,000 cycling clubs and eight million cyclists (not including city commuters, of which there are many millions more). The plan calls for China’s cycling industry to be worth 150bn RMB ($23bn) by 2020.

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The China Digest is written by Mark Dreyer, who runs the China Sports Insider website, which features sports business news and analysis related to China’s fast-growing sports industry. He has worked for Sky Sports, Fox Sports, AP Sports and many others, and has covered major sporting events on five continents, including three Olympic Games. He has been based in China since 2007.

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