It's no game! Shanghai pushes healthy, active life as fitness campaigns flourish

In addressing the recent 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China, President Xi Jinping mentioned the tremendous progress made in sports.

A bird’s eye view of the full-sized rooftop football pitch of the new Jing’an Sports Center.

In addressing the recent 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China, President Xi Jinping mentioned the tremendous progress made in sports.

“The past five years have witnessed the all-around development of national fitness programs and competitive sports,” he said.

Indeed, rising standards of living have contributed to higher awareness of the importance of a healthy lifestyle and the need to stay fit through exercise and sports.

While massive acquisitions by Chinese investors of overseas soccer clubs and the huge amount of capital now involved in sports are certainly signs of a boom, the popularity of marathons, half-marathons and other running or jogging events is perhaps a more genuine reflection of growing mass participation in sports.

To meet growing public demand for sports facilities and recreational space, many local governments are providing more. In a move expected to narrow the supply-demand gap, Shanghai authorities recently unveiled a plan to build four new sports “landmarks,” including two sports parks, a professional basketball center and a professional football field.

These new structures, when completed, will add another 2.8 million square meters to Shanghai’s panoply of sports fields, stadiums and gymnasiums.

Enjoy the best

In addition to creating more facilities, strenuous efforts are being made to make the best of the resources currently available to benefit the public.

Take Changning District. During this year’s National Fitness Day on August 8, district sports authorities decreed that the three public gymnasiums, four public fitness parlors and 13 community sports fields all open to the public for free.

Swimming is one of the favorite sports in Shanghai and the extended heat spell this summer made it even more popular. On August 8 alone, Changning’s swimming center saw a total of 522 citizens walking through its doors and cooling off in its five swimming pools.

An official with the center who declined to be named said that more lifeguards were temporarily recruited to ensure safety.

With one of the largest numbers of sports facilities among all districts in Shanghai, Changning has taken the lead in supporting what has now become a feverish mass sports and fitness campaign.

Its iconic 4,000-seat Changning Gymnasium continued to open, for free, or at least partially free, during the recent National Day holiday.

According to its website, it has become a ritual for the gymnasium to continue operation during holidays or summer and winter breaks, when many parents worry where their children can go to kill time.

With an array of new sports facilities under construction or being pressed into service, citizens can now expect more variety in their sporting experience.

Thanks to its standard rooftop football pitch, the first of its kind in the city, the new Jing’an Sports Center in northern Shanghai has been a favored destination of late for sports fans since it opened in September.

Sizeable discounts

In an interview with Shanghai Daily, Song Guangzhi, an official in charge of the center’s operation, said that football, basketball and badminton are the three most popular events among customers, followed by tennis and table tennis.

To attract more citizens, the center launched a 100-day campaign through December 31 offering sizeable discounts. Discounts range from 50 percent for facilities such as badminton halls and basketball courts during off-peak hours to 20 percent for peak hours.

Already dubbed an “Internet celebrity,” this exquisitely designed center has leveraged social media tools to market itself to a wider audience. For example, customers who take a snapshot of themselves engaged in sports and share it in their WeChat Moments or via their Weibo accounts will be offered a bottle of water or a sports kit bag, said Song.

He added that in anticipation of the widespread love of running, the center will open its 400-meter circular track for free during specific times.

Apart from hosting a series of professional sports events, Song believed that part of the center’s responsibility is to support the official initiative of encouraging more active participation.

Facilities are central to both competitive sporting events and popular activities like the annual festivals of citizen athletes, Song noted.

China’s sports space averages a mere 1.57 square meters per person, compared to the average of 7 square meters in the West, but Song sees huge potential for growth under the official mandate to bolster the national fitness program.

“By 2025, the average amount of sports space will be double what it is today. This will lay a solid foundation for the full-throttle development of the sports industry,” he said.

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