Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on

Sport in China: What's wrong with winning?

By Kristie Lu Stout, CNN
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 0312 GMT (1112 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • China has created a vigorous state system that has produced elite national athletes
  • But some argue the emphasis on winning has discouraged many children
  • At the other end of the scale, sport is not considered a part of your education in China
  • China has also struggled in sports like football, interest in holding a Winter Olympics is low

Nanjing, China (CNN) -- Off-camera, I'm getting parenting advice from China's first athlete to win gold in any sport at the Winter Olympics.

"Your daughter should go for ice skating," Yang Yang advises me. "It's great for her balance!"

My five-year old is more swimmer than skater but I appreciate Yang's words and especially her intention. She's encouraging me to share the life-changing benefits of sport, not to necessarily groom a future Olympian.

Yang herself is a product of a vigorous state system that created elite national athletes. She brought home that long-awaited gold medal in short-track speed skating from the Salt Lake City Olympiad in 2002.

To realize her dream, Yang tells me she skated for 23 years, six days a week, for almost 12 hours a day.

In the West, we look more at physical education as part of education, whereas here, for many years, the educators have tried to keep sport out of education.
Tom Byer, coach

"Once you become an athlete, you want to win. That's the most important thing," she says.

Kids driven away

While Yang says there is nothing wrong with winning, Tom Byer, who works as a coach and educator in a grassroots football program, says that winning has become so overly emphasized that it discourages children from sport.

"Winning of course is a natural response for every athlete," Byer says. "But it can also get in the way. And this is what's happening in grassroots sports all over China, is that the winning has become so important, it drives kids out of the sport."

Sports in China: Is winning everything?
Monetizing sports in China
Sports and education in China

China may have taken gold in plenty of Olympic events, from speed skating to gymnastics, but it struggles to simply qualify for the World Cup or generate mainstream interest in its bid to host the 2022 Winter Games.

Byer blames a fixation on training elite champions in select sports and an education system that considers sports a luxury and not a priority.

"In the West, we look more at physical education as part of education, whereas here, for many years, the educators have tried to keep sport out of education," he tells me.

Presidential backing

But Olympic chief Thomas Bach assures me that will change.

"I had the opportunity to meet President Xi Jinping twice," says the International Olympic Committee President. "You see clearly the government has realized that sport must be part of education and that sport helps in education."

Byer is doing his part as the Head Technical Adviser to the Chinese School Football program, a project that works with two million children in more than 6,200 schools across China. His success at teaching football skills to students in Japan earned him stardom there, and an invitation to bring his technical magic to China.

You see clearly the government has realized that sport must be part of education and that sport helps in education.
IOC chief Thomas Bach

But while charismatic coaches fan out across China's schools -- and Xi proclaims his love for football -- it could take years to change the nation's attitude toward sport... and for China to build an industry around it.

Shanghai-based Sheng Li is one of China's top sports agents. He laments how professional sports in China lack the infrastructure to make more money for his clients, like professional boxer and Olympic gold medalist Zou Shiming.

"If you come through the national system, you have the coach and the training system," Li says. "But there's a whole system behind a (professional) athlete: the PR, the brand, the corporate sponsorship, helping them find the best coaches outside the system.

"That's a whole new system we're starting to build."

Olympic bid

Yang is supporting China's athletes after their Olympic dream with the Athlete Career Program she started as part of her foundation.

She's also getting more children interested in sport with a new skating school in Shanghai that is open to everyone.

On top of that, she's leading the charge for China's bid to host the 2022 Winter Olympic Games. China, along with Kazakhstan and Norway, is a finalist to host the event.

Winning the bid and hosting the games would transform the sport scene in China, sparking greater interest in winter sports like snowboarding, skiing and skating.

More than a decade ago, Yang was in it to win it. Today, she's using her Olympic legacy to bring a love of her sport to the masses.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
December 22, 2014 -- Updated 0551 GMT (1351 HKT)
David McKenzie meets some American teenagers who are spending a year in China to be fully immersed in the culture.
December 22, 2014 -- Updated 0259 GMT (1059 HKT)
Chinese students show a handmade red ribbon one day ahead of the the World AIDS Day, at a school in Hanshan, east China's Anhui province on November 30, 2009.
The Chinese government pledges to protect a boy with HIV, who was shunned by his entire village in Sichuan, state media reported.
December 15, 2014 -- Updated 1144 GMT (1944 HKT)
A Chinese couple allegedly threw hot water on a flight attendant and threatened to blow up the plane.
December 15, 2014 -- Updated 0503 GMT (1303 HKT)
China's 1.3 billion citizens may soon find it much harder to belt out their national anthem at will.
December 10, 2014 -- Updated 0021 GMT (0821 HKT)
Los Angeles in the last century went through its own smog crisis. The city's mayor says LA's experience delivers valuable lessons for Beijing.
December 6, 2014 -- Updated 0542 GMT (1342 HKT)
At the height of his power, security chief Zhou Yongkang controlled China's police, spy agencies and courts. Now, he's under arrest.
December 5, 2014 -- Updated 0826 GMT (1626 HKT)
China says it will end organ transplants from executed prisoners but tradition means that donors are unlikely to make up the shortfall.
December 5, 2014 -- Updated 0648 GMT (1448 HKT)
China's skylines could look a lot more uniform in the years to come, if a statement by a top Beijing official is to believed.
December 3, 2014 -- Updated 0855 GMT (1655 HKT)
Despite a high-profile anti-corruption drive, China's position on an international corruption index has deteriorated in the past year.
November 26, 2014 -- Updated 1201 GMT (2001 HKT)
A daring cross-border raid by one of Russian President Vladimir Putin's associates has -- so far -- yet to sour Sino-Russian relations.
November 24, 2014 -- Updated 0051 GMT (0851 HKT)
A 24-hour bookstore in Taipei is a popular hangout for both hipsters and bookworms.
November 25, 2014 -- Updated 0153 GMT (0953 HKT)
China is building an island in the South China Sea that could accommodate an airstrip, according to IHS Jane's Defence Weekly.
November 19, 2014 -- Updated 1057 GMT (1857 HKT)
North Korean refugees and defectors face a daunting journey to reach asylum in South Korea, with gangs of smugglers the only option.
November 21, 2014 -- Updated 2319 GMT (0719 HKT)
China and "probably one or two other" countries have the capacity to shut down the nation's power grid and other critical infrastructure.
ADVERTISEMENT