China calls for more school sports

Updated: 2016-05-09 21:11


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BEIJING -- Zhang Meng helplessly watched as the head teacher confiscated the football. The gaokao, China's college entrance examination, is approaching, and the teacher wanted the high schoolers to focus on their studies.

"Honestly speaking, the teacher did it for our own sake, but a little time for sports can also be good for us," said Zhang, 18, who is a fan of Argentine footballer Lionel Messi.

Chinese students have long complained about a lack of time for sports due to pressure to do well on exams, as parents of the country's one-child generations believe academic success can determine a family's future.

That may change thanks to a new guideline on promoting sports on campus. The guideline, released on Friday by the State Council, China's cabinet, explicitly said schools must guarantee students have enough time for sports.

Aside from prohibiting schools from reducing sports time, the guideline encourages them to add more physical education classes if conditions permit. It also asks local educational authorities to incorporate sports exams into the evaluation system.

Many experts believe the guideline will usher in a golden era for school sports, citing the recently released sports development five-year plan, which predicts the Chinese sports industry will amount to over 3 trillion yuan ($462 billion dollars) by the end of 2020.

"A large portion of China's rapidly aging population is incapacitated," said Yang Guang from the School of Physical Education under Northeast Normal University. "To reverse the trend, we need more people to work out to their fullest when they are young."

Wang Dengfeng, an official from the Ministry of Education, said on Monday that local governments have been asked to evaluate officials based on whether the health of students in their jurisdictions has improved.

It is not the first time the government has issued a document on campus sports. Some of the content also bears resemblance to previous documents. For instance, a circular in 2012 stipulated that school leadership would be held accountable if students' physical condition weakened three years in a row.

However, the regulation was not applied strictly. A report published last week said 38.6 percent of data on primary school students' physical health had been faked.
Experts pointed out that the key to success of campus sports lies in implementation.

If Chinese, math and English courses retain their primacy, students will not have the time and energy for sports, said Wang Zongping, a professor at Nanjing University of Science and Technology.

Because of this, some are not so optimistic. A Monday report from China Youth Daily cited Yi Jiandong, vice president of Jiangxi University of Finance and Economics, as saying that "there is no need to read too much into the guideline, considering that there are many deep-rooted problems yet to be addressed."

A 2014 study found that 23 percent of Chinese boys under age 20 were overweight or obese, while the figure was 14 percent for girls. Alarming trends have also been seen in teenagers' cardio-pulmonary function, eyesight, stamina and running ability.