Beijing has poured vast funds into so-called “athletics factories” in order to achieve sporting glory for China, reports Joseph Poprzeczny.
China went to extraordinary lengths and expense in its drive for sporting fame and glory at the Beijing Olympics, according to Chinese-born, New Zealand-based academic, Professor Dong Li.
Professor Li, formerly of the prestigious Shanghai International Studies University, said China won its first Olympic gold medal at the 1984 Los Angeles Games.
Twenty years later, at the Athens Olympics, its athletes brought home 32 gold, plus 17 silver and 14 bronze, thereby putting China in second place next to the United States.
But China topped the Beijing Olympics gold medal tally with 51 gold, 21 silver and 28 bronze (a total of 100); compared to the United States with 36 gold, 38 silver and 36 bronze (a total of 110).
China’s move into the top gold medal ranking has prompted Professor Li to ask, “What is the secret behind this meteoric rise?”
This was recently answered by Cui Dalin, China’s deputy minister of sports, who claimed the secret lay in three words – ju guo tizhi – of which few Westerners are likely to know the meaning.
“We wouldn’t have achieved such brilliant results if there hadn’t been ju guo tizhi,”” Cui Dalin has said with pride.
So what is ju guo tizhi? According to Professor Li, it describes the system and practice of mobilising all the resources – human, financial and otherwise – of the entire Chinese nation in order to achieve sporting glory, with the winning of Olympic gold medals the overriding objective.
He said no one knows China’s total financial outlays on the pursuit of Olympic glory. Spending on sports was, according to one official source, “incremental and guaranteed”.
“The budget for the Ministry of Sports, known as the State General Administration of Sports, which doubles as the China Olympic Commission, has indeed increased by hops, steps and jumps – one billion yuan (AUD$167 million) in 1988, three billion yuan (AUD$501 million) in 1992, and five billion yuan (AUD$836 million) in 2000,” Li said.
“The rapidly increasing budget for the sports ministry is only a part of the funds, and nobody knows what the total amount is.”
Li said that Professor Bao Ming-xiao, director of the ministry’s Research Institute of Physical Science, estimated that China lavished five million yuan (AUD$836,000) on each and every Olympic athlete, and that it would have cost nearly 50 million yuan (AUD$8.4 million) to win a gold medal at Athens.
Such outlays mean that the Athens medals were probably the most expensive 170-gram pieces of gold in human history.
He said that, while one can put an approximate figure on the financial resources mobilised for medal-winning, it is virtually impossible to quantify the human resources expended.
“Theoretically, all fit and healthy youngsters among the 1.3 billion Chinese are reserves for the army fighting for Olympic medals,” he said.
“Talent-scouts roam schools throughout China to discover potential medallists.
“Once a child, as young as seven, is believed to have such potential, he or she will be sent to a special sporting school. There are around 3,000 such schools across China, with a total enrolment of 400,000 students.
“However, they are closed boarding-schools where children train day and night in a special sport, for example, table tennis, or fencing – a sport completely foreign to the Chinese – but China has won a pile of medals in it.
“The children are compelled to practise one single movement, say, that of striking a ball in table tennis, for hour upon hour.
“Normally these schools are out of bounds for visitors, even parents.”
However, Time magazine’s Asia correspondent, Hannah Beech, was allowed to visit several such schools. She described them as “athletics factories” where “the train-till-you-drop mentality” prevails, while the academic side of a youngsters’ schooling is neglected (Time magazine, June 30, 2008).
Professor Li said that Chinese parents were increasingly reluctant to allow their children to attend the schools of full-time sports training at such a tender age.
“But to say ‘no’ to the government would sound unpatriotic and therefore selfish,” he said.
“They would be given a lecture on patriotism and the need of sacrificing personal interest for national interest.
“Many poor families, however, consider themselves lucky if their children are picked, as the kids will have free boarding and education and might even become an Olympic gold medallist.
“The cruel reality is that only a handful can be sports stars, while the overwhelming majority of children and young people in these schools will be ruthlessly eliminated.
“With woefully inadequate schooling, they will find themselves ill-prepared for the real world.
“Even many once successful athletes find life tough after their retirement from training and sporting endeavour.”
– Joseph Poprzeczny is a Perth-based journalist.