Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on

Sport in China: What's wrong with winning?

By Kristie Lu Stout, CNN
updated 11:12 PM EDT, Thu August 28, 2014
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
updated 7:13 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
A smuggler in Dandong, a Chinese border town near North Korea, tells CNN about the underground trade with North Korean soldiers
updated 2:54 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
Yenn Wong got quite a surprise one morning earlier this month when she found out an exact copy of her Hong Kong restaurant had opened in China.
updated 11:15 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
When I first came across a "virtual lover" service on e-commerce site Taobao, China's version of Amazon, I thought it was hype.
updated 9:15 AM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Each year Yi Jiefeng does what she can to stop China turning into a desert.
updated 10:54 AM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
As its relationship with the West worsen, Russia is pivoting east in an attempt to secure business with China.
updated 10:29 PM EDT, Tue October 7, 2014
Aspiring Chinese comics performing in Shanghai's underground comedy scene hope to bring stand-up to the masses.
updated 12:54 PM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
Liu Wen is one of the world's highest-paid models and the first Chinese face to crack the top five in Forbes' annual list of top earners.
updated 7:44 AM EDT, Fri October 3, 2014
Cunning wolf? Working class hero? Or bland Beijing loyalist? C.Y. Leung was a relative unknown when he came to power in 2012.
updated 7:25 AM EDT, Thu October 2, 2014
 A man uses his smartphone on July 16, 2014 in Tokyo, Japan. Only 53.5% of Japanese owned smartphones in March, according to a white paper released by the Ministry of Communications on July 15, 2014. The survey of a thousand participants each from Japan, the U.S., Britain, France, South Korea and Singapore, demonstrated that Japan had the fewest rate of the six; Singapore had the highest at 93.1%, followed by South Korea at 88.7%, UK at 80%, and France at 71.6%, and U.S. at 69.6% in the U.S. On the other hand, Japan had the highest percentage of regular mobile phone owners with 28.7%. (Photo by Atsushi Tomura/Getty Images)
App hopes to help those seeking a way out of China's overstrained public health system.
updated 8:20 PM EDT, Thu October 2, 2014
Yards from pro-democracy protests, stands the Hong Kong garrison of the People's Liberation Army (PLA), China's armed forces.
updated 7:23 AM EDT, Thu October 2, 2014
The massive street rallies that have swept Hong Kong present a major dilemma for China's leadership.
updated 3:07 AM EDT, Sat September 27, 2014
Chinese wine drinkers need to develop a taste for the cheap stuff, not just premium red wines like Lafite.
updated 9:09 PM EDT, Tue September 23, 2014
The Dalai Lama, Tibet's spiritual leader, set off a media kerfuffle this month when he spoke about his next reincarnation.
updated 10:18 AM EDT, Sun September 28, 2014
He's one of the fieriest political activists in Hong Kong — he's been called an "extremist" by China's state-run media — and he's not old enough to drive.
updated 10:57 PM EDT, Mon September 22, 2014
China has no wine-making tradition but the country now uncorks more bottles of red than any other.
updated 5:29 AM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
Christians in eastern China keep watch in Wenzhou, where authorities have demolished churches and removed crosses.
updated 1:38 AM EDT, Wed September 10, 2014
Home-grown hip-hop appeals to a younger generation but its popularity has not translated into record deals and profits for budding rap artists.
ADVERTISEMENT