Li Na – Rewriting Chinese Competitive Sports

BY 王学进 WANG XUEJING
Jun 08, 2011

Her victory at Roland Garros has proven that Chinese players can defy the state system – and still win.

[Ed’s note: In 2008, Li Na fought and opted out of the Chinese state-run sports system to manage her own career. In doing so, she is able to choose her own coach and decide which matches to play. She is also allowed to keep more of her winnings, with the cut going to the official Chinese federation reduced from 65% to just 12%.

Under China's state-run sports system, inherited from the ancient Soviet regime, children are identified at a young age for their athletic potential, and trained rigorously for a specific sport.]

On the evening of June 4, 2011, I watched the match between Li Na and Francesca Schiavone and witnessed a historical moment in Chinese women’s tennis. When I saw Li Na lift the Coupe Suzanne Lenglen, her expression solemn as our national anthem was played aloud, I sighed and said to myself: “Li Na has brought a whole new meaning to Chinese competitive sports – [she has shown that] actually, the state-run system is not the only way to succeed.”

957 China's Tennis Ace Li Na 李娜 (Photo: Globalite @ Flickr)

Li Na’s victory has once again proven the advantages of going solo; that is to say that athletes competing outside of the state-run system can still become world champions. There has been much debate in recent years surrounding the state system, including calls for the system to be abandoned. That’s because Chinese competitive sports no longer needs to prove itself to the world; just the fact that China had won the most gold medals at the Beijing Olympics alone is enough to prove that our nation has already become a sporting giant.

What I do know is, although our investments to produce those gold medals have been successful, they have come at a cost – the neglect of the general sports welfare of the people. Sports facilities and organisations have neither increased nor improved, seriously jeopardizing the fitness levels of citizens, especially children and teenagers.

So since tennis (and basketball) players can switch from the state system into going solo and still achieve success, why can’t table tennis and badminton players do the same? If the state can put the money that they normally pour into training table tennis and badminton gold medalists into improving sports facilities at rural schools – e.g. construct more cement table tennis tables, badminton and basketball courts and athletic fields, etc. – that would greatly help to drive the development of a sporting culture at rural schools and improve student fitness levels. In that way the Ministry of Education can, too, fulfill its requirement for school children to acquire two sporting skills and one artistic skill as a form of security for their future livelihoods.

The above post has been translated and excerpted from 王学进的BLOG