All of China’s Olympic medallists deserve a victory lap in Hong Kong, not just the winners

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 18 August, 2016, 4:40pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 18 August, 2016, 10:28pm

As you cheer China’s gold medallists during the Olympic Games in Rio, spare a thought for its winners of silver and bronze. They toiled as long and as hard to bring glory to the country, but get little or no acclaim.

China’s state-run system for producing national athletes is still modelled on the Soviet “sports factories” that train potential Olympians from the age of six to 10. Of the hundreds of thousands enrolled in 2,183 sports schools on the mainland, only 416, after a lifetime of full-time training, made it to this year’s Chinese Olympic team competing in 26 sports. Their singular goal: to win gold. Anything less amounts to losing, even though a silver or bronze would be an achievement of a lifetime for most athletes.

In the past, after the Olympics, China’s gold medallists would do a “victory lap” in Hong Kong. But not the silver and bronze medallists. Having missed the gold, perhaps just by a point or two, they became invisible, even though they were among China’s top athletes.

With little marketable skill, many of China’s elite athletes struggle to have a normal life when their performing days are over.

Nor have China’s Olympic triumphs led to better sports facilities for ordinary citizens. The national teams train in well-equipped facilities, but local communities fend for themselves with few public sports centres that are accessible and affordable to everyone.

There is no parallel with Hong Kong’s heavily subsidised district-level sports centres that are open to all.

What’s behind the Chinese state’s fixation on gold? China’s sports system is organised to win gold medals not for the athletes, nor even for Chinese citizens, but for boosting nationalism and the legitimacy of the ruling party.

Sure enough, the Hong Kong government has announced that only the gold medallists fresh from Rio will visit the city from August 27 to 29.

Our government needs to give an explanation as to what effort they have made to impress upon the Chinese authorities that all medallists – not just the winners – should visit here.

The usual excuse of difficult logistics for a larger group, if the silver and bronze medallists were also included, is simply not credible, as the government will pull out all the stops to accommodate visitors from the mainland if it is deemed important enough.

Such an “exclusive” victory lap sets a bad example for our young aspiring athletes and people of all ages, giving a bad name to the true spirit of the Olympics.

Tom Yam, Lantau