On Coach’s Turf, Lagat Aims for Olympic Gold <- (completely unrelated link)
Back when I was a kid, I had many dreams of becoming an athlete. I was entranced when I watched my first American football game: the Washington Redskins against the Buffalo Bills in the Super Bowl. Every recess I went out and rumbled around the fields, throwing that old pigskin around until my jeans became hopelessly discolored with dirt and grass stains. However, I was never able to join the school flag football team because my parents didn’t have time to shuttle me from one place to another.
It wasn’t until high school that I was able to join a real team. At first I wanted to join the football team since that was my life-long goal, but I realized that high school football players were idiots, jerks, and ass holes. So instead, I joined cross country. Running. And I liked it.
In China, my running has completely fallen apart. I can barely do three miles anymore without coughing up a storm. The heat in the summer, the cold in the winter… and the pollution that hangs over the city every day of the year… it really makes one with low willpower decide to stay inside and play computer games instead of go out for a run. However, I do make it out to the track at Beijing Aeronautics and Astronautics University every now and then.
There are a lot of people on that track. About fifty percent are elderly men and women walking around the track while they sip tea from their water bottles. Another forty percent are made up of students, mostly girls, who are also walking and occasionally jogging around the track. Another eight percent are boys who sprint for 100 meters before stopping to stretch and chat with their friends for an hour or two in the shade. There’s about one percent of non-student men who run about 400 meters before going off to the side to smoke. Finally, there’s that finally 0.5 to 1% of the people on the track who are all decked out in nylon singlets, running shorts, and expensive imported Saucony running shoes.
In China, there exists a pretty strong culture of physical fitness. Old people are often seen doing some kind of outdoor exercise, may it be tai chi, Chinese hackey sack, badminton, or simply walking. A decent number of schoolboys and college guys are involved in basketball, football, or at least ping pong (though there are also a bunch of them who just stay inside and play computer games all day). Girls, while a lot of them don’t exercise during the daytime for fear of getting dark, usually come out in the evening to do a little bit of jogging or walking as well as badminton and ping pong. Fatter people, who would look pretty normal compared to an overweight American, are often ridiculed or at least poked fun of.
The Olympics coming to Beijing probably had something to do with the spurt of physical activity taking place in China today. Like the old college that I used to teach at in Guangdong has all the students run around the school once a day or something like that. However, I think this has a lot more to do with Chinese culture, western imperialism, and Communist ideology with some leftover linkages to early Chinese intellectual movement on Social Darwinism.
Chinese culture seemed to have more fascination with immortality and longevity than western cultures. This probably has something to do with the lack of an afterlife in Chinese religious beliefs. So how do you live longer? Well you gotta stay in top physical shape of course. And then there’s all that western imperialism in China that took place a couple centuries ago. China was militarily weak, which had more to do with organization and technology than anything else, but military strength is usually connected to physical strength, (probably left over from the days when soldiers had to swing around giant halberds instead of pushing buttons to launch missiles), so the Chinese government started to ban opium smoking and encourage physical fitness. Finally, there’s the communist ideology. In communism, it’s the worker who is prized, not those intellectuals. The workers image is this hardened, tough man who can endure for 25 hours inside a steel mill shoveling coal and hammering stuff. If that is the ideal member of society, then the members of that society must be physically strong.
However, while physical fitness itself may be encourage, there isn’t much competitive sporting activities in China. I mean there are clubs where people go to play a little football or basketball together. Kids are learning how to rollerblade and rock climb. People go and practice kung fu or taekwando. But there isn’t that kind of competitive team sports that exists in America. I mean kids in the states have been playing little league baseball, representing their cities or schools, since they were in primary school. High schools compete against each other in a highly organized structure that goes from city to section to state to nationals. And universities? I mean what’s bigger than March Madness other than the Super Bowl?
That doesn’t exist in China. However, I think that’ll change soon. China will be extremely competitive in all the individual sports like diving, gymnastics, and ping pong. That’s because of all the sports training institutions that exist in China. However, in team sports like basketball and football, they’ll most likely fail (especially the men, though the women for some reason do pretty well). There are leagues in China, but anyone who’s watched two Chinese football teams play against each other without committing suicide knows that their level is sub-par at best.
For China to do well in team sports, first there needs to be a massive increase in funding for education. Instead of creating sports institutions, just increase funding for all universities in China. This will enable the schools to diversify away from the old planned and segmented education system where each school specializes in just one subject. Once they do that, the universities can also start their own sports programs. In the beginning, they can compete against other schools in the immediate area. As the system progresses, it can move up to the province, and finally, nationwide level competitions. If that is achieved, Chinese athletes can no longer be criticized as being ‘manufactured’ and the Chinese men’s football team…
…well, the Chinese men’s football team will probably suck ass for all eternity, but maybe their basketball team will show some improvement.
Read Full Post »