At the Asian Games, Chinese reflect on and debate what gold count means

November 21, 2010Jing GaoNo Comments, , , , , , , , , , ,

On the first day of the Asian Games, the host country China claimed 19 of 28 golds. In the following days, China won so many golds that Chinese netizens joked the awarding ceremony is Chinese national anthem set on repeat playback mode. A Chinese journalist wrote an article asking the nation to refrain from celebration and readjust their attitude towards the gold medal, which sparked strong reaction from media, the public and officials.

By Yang Ming/ Xinhua News Agency
Chinese delegation has made a really “good start” at the Asian Games in Guangzhou: On the first day, they swept 19 golds, showing a power enough “to vanish into a cloud of dust with whip and spur”(Chinese idiom meaning too fast to even catch sight of).  Considering China is playing host this time, it is estimated that China’s gold count will exceed the record of 183 set 20 years ago at Beijing Asian Games. If so, should we sing the praises, or calm down and rethink it?
In my humble opinion, monopoly of golds is not necessarily good. It will cause a lot of worries.
The slogan of the Asian Games is unity, friendship, harmony and development. It’s a happy holiday for people  of Asia. We shouldn’t only focus on gold medals and totally ignore other things.
It appears that being the single dominant player on the center stage can steal the scene. However, it will break the equilibrium of Asian games, and make other nations feel they serve as a foil. Let’s look at it this way: If it is meant to be a dinner party for all guests, but all the shark fins and bear paws have been grabbed and eaten by the host whereas the guests only get to divvy up leftover soup and beverages. Do we feel all right? Biological and natural laws have taught us: only coexistence can create common prosperity. Let a “giant” and a group of “ordinary people” playing the wrestling game by the same set of rules, and the scene may not be interesting.
Besides, this will lead China’s already abnormal competitive sports culture to the extreme. Over the years, we have been seeing sports as an equivalent to gold medals, seeing sport as a symbol of a superpower. It is in fact a distortion of the true sporting spirit and essence. What is sport? Chairman Mao said long ago: “Develop sport activities to enhance people’s health.” Sports are exercises for the masses. It is about the people’s healthy lifestyle. Unfortunately, this property is ignored. Sports for the cream of the crop played a leading role.
Domestic media should not jump on the band wagon and eulogize the gold medal storm. Too many gold medals is not as good as it seems. It comes with side effects. About that, the parties concerned should make good judgments as early as possible.
In fact, after the Beijing Olympic Games, President Hu has wisely pointed out to the right direction for China’s sports: striding from a major nation of sports to a nation really strong on sports. We should make the transition and transformation immediately, give emphasis on fitness nationwide rather on competitive sports, downplay gold medals, fortify our fellow countrymen’s body and health, promote the notion of sports or and health on a large scale, and let the true spirit of sports return.
The following is a set of official data: At present, in China, 160 million people suffer from high blood pressure,  160 million people have high cholesterol level, 200 million people are overweight or obese. In cities,  1 in every 5 children are roly-poly. More than 85% of high school students (equivalent of tenth graders to twelfth graders) are bespectacled. Compared with Japanese children, our teenagers lag way behind according to multiple indicators. Only 28% of the Chinese population participate in exercises on a regular basis. Sports facilities per person ranks lower than a hundredth. In Asia, our physically active population and sports facilities per capita certainly cannot make into top ten. While China’s competitive sports have made brilliant achievements in the past 20 years, overall physical health of Chinese people is clearly going downhill.
However, our gold count is the first in the world, and absolutely the first in Asia. Is not that ironic? Does not that make us blush?
Monopoly at the Asian Games gold medal is formed over time. It is related to our abnormal mechanism and direction. As long as we are aware of this, with guidance of a new notion of sports, I believe this phenomenon will be changed.
Finally, one suggestion: In order to change the current out-of-balance situation where a single nation dominates, can we, starting from the next Asian Games, downplay the significance of the gold medal, select some real amateur athletes from the University or the Sports Association rather than from national professional teams,  increase the share of non-Olympic events? Then we can compete with most Asian athletes from the same background on a similar level for a real fair competition. At the same time, we can prevent the supremacy phenomenon from going on.
The article published by Xinhua News Agency soon came in for criticism from Yin Baolin, a Chinese official acting as the vice director of Chinese delegation at the Asian Games. Yin flayed the author Yang Ming for “seeking fame at the cost of distorting truth,” and “hyping himself up.” Yang Ling replied “it’s a personal attack.” Soon the exchange of opinion turned into a battle of words between the two.
Yang: This is very subjective judgment. I was also an athlete. I am now 54, and have engaged in sports for 27 years. I don’t think I need to or bother to hype myself this way.
Yin: Is there anything wrong with aiming at gold medals at sports Games? Olympic spirit is “Swifter, higher, stronger”, if no one thinks about striving for golds while participating in a game, what’s the point of investing effort in sports? What’s the point of participating? If competitive sport is not about striving for golds, it is against the spirit of sports, or even contrary to sportsmanship. Becoming a winner is what competition is all about.
Yang: No one said we shouldn’t “fight for the gold.” But is selecting amateur athletes for competition tantamount to “giving away” the gold? What’s more, can letting professional athletes who do this for a living rout foreign amateur athletes really make the nation proud?
Yin: Who says foreign countries do not value gold medals? Americans at the Beijing Olympic Games made an excuse for their defeats by claiming their “medal count” was number one. Moreover, when you say our athletes are professional, who said America’s are not? It’s but a different situation and a different system. Japan played down golds after their gold medal count ranked the third at the Tokyo Olympic Games. But they have been regretting it all these years, and have begun to increase their investment into many sport events. We must not repeat the Japanese’ mistake.
Yang: Is Japan’s situation comparable to China’s? Popular formula that measure body weight and physical health can show that Japanese people’s physical health is far better than Chinese. For so many years, we see sports as equivalent to competitive sports, and see competitions as equivalent to winning gold medals. We thought sport is all about competition and winning, which twisted the true spirit of sports. Now is the time to change the notion. There is nothing wrong with fighting for golds, but when we become the number one in the world and in Asia in terms of gold count, shouldn’t we look back and see if our footprints have strayed from the path? Twenty years ago, winning gold medals indeed encouraged us. At that time we did need achievement in sports to arouse the sense of national pride in us. But now with various aspects of China becoming miraculous, the country has grown stronger, and the people’s mentality is changing. It is, as a matter of course, great to win many gold medals, but it must be premised on elevating overall physical health to make sense.
So Japan gets fewer gold medals. Do they really regret? Has Japan begun to model their system after ours? Has their government also formed a professional team for their judo athletes? Are their physical health going downhill?

Media reaction:
Xu Jiren, the director of the sports section of Xinhua: Articles written by reporters such as Yang Ming contain viewpoints they formed after long-time research. They might seem sharp and even biased. But people come from either a media background or a sport background should engage more in debate when China is bent on transition from a major nation of sports to a nation strong in sports. Such debates and arguments can lead to deeper thinking and understanding of China’s sports. It’s conducive rather than bad.

Zhang Bin, a CCTV anchorman: Don’t confuse what both sides are talking about. Yang Ming’s reflection on gold medals doesn’t mean no gold medal. Rather, it is a discussion on values of sports and lifestyle that involves sports. If you look at the “three big balls” (Soccer, basketball, volleyball), you will know that China’s conventional system is not enough to solve all the problems that China’s competitive sports encounter, and how can China’s sports be limited to competitive sports?

Changjiang Daily: It is time to talk about where China’s sports should go. Accomplishments in competitive sports should not be ignored. Investing all the nation’s resources on competitive sports should get its due reception. But times have passed and circumstances have changed. We should think about the new direction of China’s sports development with an open and peaceful mind.

Yanzhou Evening Post:  Yang Ming’s criticism on “gold fever” not only entails courage, but also shows his reason and sober mind.

Selected comments from Chinese netizens on Yang’s article:
利杨:

Can the “elite” have a little normal frame of mind? When we won the gold medal, you blast it; when we didn’t win the gold medal, you also blast it. What on earth do you want?
I seriously despise Xinhua. Can an athlete who doesn’t want gold medal be called a good athlete???And you said for China, winning too many golds is an irony. I would say, you don’t have the ability to win a gold, otherwise you would want it too!!!!! A person like you, who cannot make contributions to our country, and turn his back on the country and sabotage, is just a modern-day traitor.
Is it a lack of respect for other countries if you send amateur athletes?
Competitive sport is for tapping the potential of humans, not for strengthening bodies
As long as Chinese are happy, that’s fine. Why do I care if Asians are happy? Have Japanese or Koreans cared if Chinese are happy?
From the local to the central, there isn’t a level without a sports administration. When it comes to investment, China is the number one of the world. If they use the money to build more gyms and playgrounds, I am afraid there will be much fewer people who have cardiovascular or coronary heart disease.
This amateur athlete thing is also unreliable. For example, Michael Phelps is also an amateur athlete. He is a manager or something. But media coverage of him finally betrayed him – he stays in the swimming pool more than ten hours or even twenty hours a day…..
Phelps’ soaking himself in the water is different from Chinese athletes’ soaking in the water. He does this for fun and recreation, out of interest and hobby. You Chinese athletes are forced to soak themselves in the water and win the gold medal for show.
When did we host any sports games without building stadiums on a large scale and being blasted for “face-saving projects”? When we win medals, they say the government did not invest enough, so the population of heart disease patients and obesity is big. In fact it’s just a matter of jogging and sit-ups. Do you need any facility if you want to take some exercise? It’s our own choice to be stuck online, and now we blame the athletes who won medals for taking away our sport funding. Isn’t it going too far? What’s more, athletes’ benefits are already very poor. What’s wrong if they wish to make their life better by getting some accomplishment? 50% of the U.S. population is overweight or obese. Isn’t it a bigger irony that they are the country strongest in sports? Do we need to make American amateur fat people participate in a marathon?

Guys, we should be too conceited or impatient. Don’t so smug as to swing your tail sky-high as soon as you have had a little accomplishment. We should see that even though we have won so many medals, in per capita term, we are not as good as Korea. So we shouldn’t slack. We should fight for more golds. Make sure our per capita gold count is as good as other developed countries before the twelfth “five-year plan” ends (in 2015).

Original articles here: 1 2 3 4

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