Sport for all: China’s plan to cope with ageing society
Shift in mindset as encouraging exercise is seen not only as a route to Olympic glory, but to a healthier and economically more productive nation
The mainland has rolled out a plan to motivate the public into exercising more over the next five years to help the nation cope with an ageing society and rising medical costs.
The launch of a national strategy based on exercise for all – in contrast to a previous priority of training athletes for Olympic glory – reflects Beijing’s realisation that sport is valuable not only politically, but also for health and economic reasons, experts say.
The plan, released by the State Council on Thursday, aims to raise the public’s awareness of sports by 2020, by which time it wants 700 million people to exercise at least once a week and 435 million to exercise three times a week.
It envisages sports-related industries to expand to 1.5 billion yuan (HK$1.77 billion) in that time – up from 900 million yuan in 2014 – and for sporting venues’ area-per-capita to reach 1.8 square metres. The country’s last plan to boost sport, which covered the years from 2011 to 2015, had targeted an area-per-capita of 1.5 square metres.
“The central government has decided to build a healthy China and mass-participation in sport is an important part of this strategy,” Liu Peng, director of the General Administration of Sports, said.
“An effective and popular way to prevent diseases is to develop sports among the public.”
Local governments will be required to channel more funds into sport, and allocate public welfare lottery funds to build facilities and buy services from privately-run companies.
Private capital will be encouraged to invest in the sector through tax cuts.
Sports that already enjoy large participation bases, such as running, cycling, swimming, hiking, ball sports and square dancing, are to receive the biggest boost, alongside traditional sports such as martial arts and tai chi.
But the government is also keen on “incubating” what it refers to as the “fashion and leisure” sports – such as equestrian, sailing, fencing, motor racing and extreme sports – that are common in societies where consumption is increasing.
One of the biggest focuses of the plan is to speed up the development of soccer and winter sports.
Local governments have been told to include soccer pitches in urbanisation plans, while provinces both north and south are being encouraged to popularise winter sports in line with the goal of having 300 million participants by the time Beijing hosts the Winter Olympics in 2022.
Jin Shan, director of the sports culture research institute at the Beijing Academy of Social Sciences, said when a countries’ per capita income passed US$3,000, their attention spread from a focus on economic development to other aspects of life such as sport.
“For a long time, our country’s sports mindset was to try its best at the Olympics and ignore mass participation sports,” Jin said. “Also, people didn’t exercise because they were busy grappling with the pressures of work.”
Liu Dongfeng, a professor of economics and management at the Shanghai University of Sport, said there was no standardised way to assess the development of mass participation sport.
He said that according to a survey in Shanghai last year people in their 60s were the most active in pursuing new exercise habits.
School pupils aged from 10 to 12 spent the most time on sport, with one third of them exercising for 30 minutes or more at least three times a week.