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4 Dec, 2012

Chinese Sports Boss: Big events aren’t for everyone

By Sun Xiaochen in Ninghai, Zhejiang province

2012-12-03 (China Daily) – Holding major sporting events is not a panacea for every city in China, a top sports official has warned.

Inspired by the Olympic legacy of Beijing, from which mass fitness campaigns and related business ventures have thrived since the 2008 Games, more and more cities have embraced major sports events, public fitness programs and fairs at huge expense.

However, local officials should stay cool, avoid massive investments and sacrifice their local identities, said Feng Jianzhong, deputy director of the State General Administration of Sport of China.

“Bringing sports into a city will definitely help to improve its image, but it doesn’t mean every place should do the same – like bidding to host big sports meetings,” Feng said at an annual forum themed “Sports and City Development” in Ninghai, Zhejiang province, over the weekend.

The forum marked the third consecutive year in which governing body leaders, local sports heads, experts and industrial representatives have gathered to share ideas in the eastern coastal county.

“Building sports venues and importing events without measuring the cost and local economic impact won’t help the place to develop sustainably. It’s like a swarm of blind bees,” Feng said.

Since the Beijing Olympics, hosting prestigious sports events has become somewhat of a blueprint for a city’s development – not only major sites like Beijing and Shanghai – but also in minor cities and even rural counties.

Following the 2010 Guangzhou Asian Games, Shenzhen, also in Guangdong province, staged the 2011 Universiad before Shandong’s seaside county, Haiyang, landed the Asian Beach Games this summer.

Tianjian will host the East Asian Games next year before the second Youth Olympic Games kick off in Jiangsu’s capital city, Nanjing, in 2014.

More than 50 local sports officials, most from rural areas, unveiled their plans to import international tennis tournaments, triathlon, rallies and cycling races at the forum, in the hope of boosting their location’s images.

However, the huge investment of revenue and public resources has raised concerns the more underprivileged areas can make ends meet and also effectively use the facilities after the events.

Already, the media has criticized idle venues in Guangzhou and Shenzhen.

“We have seen a lot of waste after major events in China,” Bao Mingxiao, a sport sociologist with the China Institute of Sport Science, said at the forum.

“How to pick events which match the host’s geological characteristics, economic level and sports culture environment is the first lesson local governors should learn.

“Otherwise, a heavy burden will come after a short-term boom.”

Some successful events held in China were praised at the two-day forum.

Boasting a hilly landscape and high-quality cross-country roads, Zhejiang’s Longyou county introduced a national rally race in 2003 and it was upgraded to the Asia-Pacific Rally Championships three years later.

This year’s edition lured 109 cars from 11 countries and regions while fueling the promotion of local tourism.

Lying alongside the Yellow River, Sanmenxia, of Henan province, has organized the “Across the Mother River” open-water swimming races for three years. The meet has reshaped the industrial city’s image.

“Each city should find out its own way to boost sports participation while trying to make it different from other areas,” said Feng.

“It’s good to have the passion, but knowing what you are good at and weak in is more important. Only drafting plans based on local features and public demand will not necessarily make it a long-term prospect,” said Feng.

The Ninghai event also featured the third Sports and Leisure Industry Expo of Yangtze River Delta with sports project investment conferences and the launch of fitness instruction books for rural areas.