Yao Ming emphasizes sport spirit as a factor for change

By Chen Boyuan
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail China.org.cn, July 3, 2014
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Ex-NBA star Yao Ming emphasizes the role of spirit over muscles in making a change in China's sports development. [Photo/Sina] 

Just because Yao Ming retired from basketball doesn't mean he has time to relax. The ex-Houston Rockets supercenter is also a CBA club owner, philanthropist, member of China's national political advisory body and a university student.

Yao also recently became a host of the popular entertainment television program "Where Are We Going, Dad?" He joked about continuing his role as an "entertainer" by joining the show.

"I must have entertained you in the past," said Yao, who tried to avoid any direct link with the entertainment circle by adding the reason he joined the program was to promote basketball.

His goal is to address the unbalanced development of sports in China. In his opinion, the distribution of sports talent should resemble the shape of a pyramid. The top should be a small group of sport elites with a middle section of semi-professional practitioners and a large, bottom level of amateurs. Sports in China have a problem developing these sections.

"When the middle section is missing, how could people in the lower level climb up?" Yao said.

As he put it, the top level of sport elites is made up of professional athletes, under which the group of semi-professional, long-term sports enthusiasts in China has failed to develop, resulting in an unsupported top level.

Chinese people do not exhibit a high interest in sports participation. The media's indifference to anything but gold medals may explain why China seems like a medal beast in major international events such as the Olympics, but cannot put together a decent football or basketball team from its 1.3 billion people.

"The sports authorities focus on gold medals while schools focus on enrollment rate; the middle section is unaccounted for," said Yao, who compared advancement in sports to climbing a staircase.

"Some of the middle flights are missing. People at the bottom have no way to climb to the top," he said.

Chinese students in regular schools, particularly middle schools, are not encouraged to play sports, because playing basketball will not increase their scores on written exams. On the other hand, students in sports academies do not focus on academic subjects because that will not enhance their performance on the court.

Yao said his enrollment at Shanghai Jiaotong University was partly meant to compensate for the academic knowledge he missed out on.

He thinks developing sports in China should start with interest and not the pressure that comes from "the need or the glory of the country." The decades of state-run sports practices have ruined the foundation, which now needs to be rebuilt.

Following that notion, Yao founded his Yao Foundation, which focuses on what is called the "Basketball Season at Hope Primary Schools," which helps those charity-funded schools build basketball facilities and sends volunteers to teach there.

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