Wednesday, January 27, 2010

State system for sports

I've been watching the Australian Open and for first time since Michael Chang, Asians being very competitive in the sport. Li Na and Zhang Jie from China are both in the semi-finals. These athletes are all products of China's state-sponsored sport system. I have heard from people that China is cheating by basically producing these stars.

The government began to emphasize sport as a form of nationalism; a way for citizens to bring global honor to their country. Thus, it created state-sponsored athletic facilities in which both males and females trained from an early age to become competitive athletes.

After Beijing won the right to host the 2008 Olympics, the country's State General Administration of Sports unveiled a Cabinet-approved policy called "Winning pride at the Olympics." The program built on China's long-standing "Gold-medal strategy" of targeting sports that offer the most Olympic golds because of different weight classes or race lengths such as weight lifting, fencing and canoeing. It didn't matter that most Chinese knew nothing of these sports. The point was to accumulate gold medals. China targeted  women's sports since facilities and resources are usually given to men in other countries. As a result, women's sports, which tend to receive less funding in the West, received a cash infusion. Around the same time, the nation's athletics czars started the "119 project," which aimed for success in the few remaining disciplines in which the country was still weak.

This philosophy of equal access for male and female athletes throughout modern Chinese sport history contrasts with the struggle of American female athletes to receive the same treatment and recognition as their male counterparts. Historically, sport in the U.S. has been seen as an inherently masculine pursuit and consequently women have not been able to participate in sport the same way as men. For example, though women have participated in each Olympiad since 1900, it took decades for American women to be permitted to compete in Olympic sports other than those deemed “socially acceptable” such as archery and tennis. These sports are slowly becoming more acceptable for American women to compete in and unlike China, American women do have the choice of free will to select a sport they enjoy.

It is obvious that China and the United States have vastly different sports systems in place. The Chinese government controls the access to and training of elite athletes throughout the country. The United States, on the other hand, allows athletes to self-select their sport of choice and to fund their own participation. While each country obviously operates a very different sport system, the question that arises for many is whether or not one system is better than the other. Many sensibilities would say that the United States system of free choice is the better of the two. However, the other side could be argued as well. China continues to produce highly competitive athletes and many of these athletes come from impoverished families in distant villages who would probably have lived a struggling life. Instead they have the opportunity to become famous stars and reap the financial benefits of it. Consequently, without knowing where these athletes come from and the conditions they lived in, it is difficult to criticize the Chinese system. I am sure some of the impoverished families in the United States would be grateful that their children be given the same opportunities.

No comments:

Post a Comment