Are China’s women’s volleyball team the country’s most fun export? Hong Kong is certainly in love with them

Captain Zhu Ting and her teammates look like they are enjoying themselves at the Nations League – and fans rock along

PUBLISHED : Friday, 01 June, 2018, 8:02am
UPDATED : Saturday, 02 June, 2018, 9:29pm

It is said that “women hold up half the sky” but when it comes to Chinese sport they shoulder more of the burden – and in the volleyball team they also soar through it before spiking the ball and claiming another point.

In captain Zhu Ting, 23 years old and 1.98 metres, they have the sport’s Cristiano Ronaldo – the best player in the world – and the Zinedine Zidane of coaches in Lang Ping.

Lang has won the gold medal as both player and coach, a first in Olympic volleyball, male or female, and this team keeps racking up titles. The shiniest medal at the 2016 Rio Games was followed up with wins at the Asian Cup a month later and the World Grand Champions Cup last year.

Hong Kong sports fans love a dead cert and the Chinese women are the Real Madrid of volleyball.

It’s a comparison that stands up after watching them wipe the floor with Japan at Hong Kong Coliseum in the FIVB Nations League leg this week.

China comfortably saw off the second best team in Asia and re-established their regional dominance in front of a partisan crowd.

Zhu Ting shines brightest as China’s volleyball stars blow rivals Japan away in Hong Kong leg of Nations League

As good as the best team in the world with the best player performing at their peak are, the reaction from the crowd is the most impressive thing. They are beloved.

While Team China had more high-fives than the Golden State Warriors throughout their seven game series win over the Houston Rockets, those in the stands put their hands together even more.

The volleyball crowd, when China are in full flight, is perhaps the best sight in Hong Kong sport.

As much as the fans are into it ­– and they are, even if the jollity is somewhat cajoled by a couple of MCs – the players are equally enjoying themselves.

The subs bench remain on their feet throughout, ready for the call if a teammate might fall or fail, but they spend their time dancing along with the soundtrack, making every move that the MCs announce to greet a great play – whether that’s a dig, block or a spike.

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They are a credit to the country and when the social credit system comes in surely these young women will be the poster girls.

Each and every one of them was a joy to behold, just as the on-court action was manna for the volleyball purist.

When was the last time you saw a sports star look like they enjoyed their job?

Make no mistake, these are the stars.

The idea of a Chinese sports team out there embodying former Manchester United manager Matt Busby’s “go out and enjoy yourselves” mantra is somehow unexpected, but they are out there and loving every minute, no matter how many of those minutes they actually play with the subs having as much fun as the crowd.

Zhu Ting shines brightest as China’s volleyball stars blow rivals Japan away in Hong Kong leg of Nations League

This is a team, and in Zhu a player, at the very pinnacle of their profession.

Better still they engender a fervour that crosses the gender divide and captures the crowd. A near sell-out at the Coliseum created an atmosphere akin to that at the Hong Kong Sevens with fan favourites Fiji in full flight.

That’s remarkable in itself and more so in a city that tends to support sport by watching it on TV, betting and wearing jerseys.

Here, everyone was in it for the volleyball. They were there before the game – some even watching the first of the night’s double header, Italy v Argentina – and they were there long after as they waited for their heroes to sign autographs.

The dynamic, which skewed female in a way that most other Hong Kong sports events could never dream of, also united age groups. They are clearly relatable and look like they are enjoying themselves.

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The teenagers on the subs bench led a similar age group in the stands and even those whose teenage years were long in the past before China started dominating on the court in the ’80s embraced the hip-hop lite party playlist – Queen, LMFAO, Avicii, Wonder Girls – as they “ooh-ed” and “aah-ed” as the drama played out on court. They even joined in the jumbotron’s jamboree of jollity when the action was on pause: hug cam, dance cam and all.

It wasn’t even all China, although the biggest cheer of the night was once the March of the Volunteers concluded and play was about to start, as the MCs led the whole crowd in chanting for the inferior opponents.

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But the call and response was stronger for China. The potential models turned role models extended their winning streak over Japan as wide as their smiles. It was like a Harlem Globetrotters game. Sadly the Japanese, Asia’s second best team, had to play the role of the Washington Generals.

But much like those basketball exhibitions, even those few rooting for the opposition, went home happy.