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Farmers to Have Chance to Slam Dunk!
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A new scheme focusing on people living in rural China will be a first as has nothing at all to do with tractors, acreage or collectivization -- it's about basketball and ping-pong!

China is to embark on a program which will result in a major increase in sporting facilities across the countryside, explained Feng Jianzhong, vice-minister of the State General Administration of Sport (SGAS), at a press conference in Beijing yesterday.

According to the SGAS program, there'll be at least one standard, cement surfaced basketball court constructed in each village involved in the program. The courts will be equipped with a pair of standard basketball stands and two outdoor ping-pong tables will also be supplied.

It was anticipated that these facilities would lead to the formation of more local sports and health clubs and result in village tournaments being organized, said Feng. 

This is one of the projects being undertaken in rural areas as part of the Chinese Five-Year Guidelines for 2006-2010. Observers have noted that never before have "mass sporting activities" been such an integral part of government planning in the country.

But it's not a strange concept for Guo Min, director of the Sport-for-All Department of the SGAS. "While China's elite athletes are collecting medals at various world events the fitness of ordinary people should not be forgotten," Guo said.

It is planned that by 2010, one-sixth of Chinese villages or around 100,000 of them, will have these facilities which will be of benefit to approximately 150 million farming people.
"Our program aims to improve farmers' health and enrich their cultural lives," added Feng.

Figures drawn from an official survey in 2003 show that of the 850,000 sports fields in Chinese mainland some 70,000, or just 8 percent, are scattered around rural areas.

When explaining why basketball courts and ping-pong tables were chosen to start the rural sports program, Feng explained that research showed rural citizens' favorite sports were basketball and ping-pong. "We have just followed what the farmers told us they needed," he said. "Moreover, a cement-paved basket court can also be used for other sporting activities," added Feng.

At the same time, Feng said, the program would not place a financial burden on farmers as the project was government funded.

In 2006, the National Development and Reform Commission will provide 10 million yuan (US$1.23 million) to the program along with more than 80 million yuan (US$9.86 million) from the national sports authority of SGAS. Regional governments are expected to make their contributions when additional funding is needed.

Supervisory bodies will be established to ensure the program's progress, Feng said. Activity handbooks would be produced and instructors trained as the program progressed, he added.

(China Daily March 30, 2006)

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