SPORT AND FRIENDSHIP: Competitors round the corner on the third and final stage of the competition, a six-lap circuit race, on November 18 (KIERAN PRINGLE)
Recently, I had the chance to attend the Ehbor Cup Tour of Fuzhou, which was a three-day, three-stage cycling event open to professionals and amateurs alike from all over Asia. Unfortunately, I wasn't a competitor. I'm not quite fit enough to make it up a mountain at my own pace, let alone when trying to beat more than 100 other people. I'm not sure I'd want to see myself in spandex either. However, it was from my comfortable, and physically un-strenuous, position on the sidelines that I had time to reflect a little.
Sports seem to have some sort of mystical power that is able to bring people together by pitting them against one another. I'm sure if the UN could somehow harness half of the cooperative spirit that goes into the World Cup or the Olympics then we'd see a rapid decline in diplomatic problems between all nations. Maybe it's a sense of good-sportsmanship that lets all nations put their grievances aside, join together and cheer one another along.
In some way I guess it was the 2008 Beijing Olympics that drew me to China. It was at that time that I was preparing to graduate and had a hunger for adventure but was undecided on where exactly to direct my aimless desire to explore. I remember watching the opening ceremony and being fascinated by the sheer scale of it. Scotland, my home county, has a population of just 5 million. You could fit all of us into Beijing four times over. I'm sure you can imagine how enormous and grandiose Beijing seemed to me. Nothing could be further from home, not just in distance, but also in almost every other way.
China's development the 20 years leading up their hosting of the Olympics can, in some way, be seen in their increasing athletic prowess. In 1988, China didn't even reach the top 10 nations in terms of medals won. In 1992 and 1996 both they made it to 4th place--a dramatic improvement. In 2000, they climbed to third, and in 2004, they placed second. In 2008, as hosts of the event, they finally managed to take the top spot. The more recent 2012 saw them drop back to second place again, but there are still two more years left for the country's athletes to up their game once more.
In spite of this though, China's presence outside of the Olympics has not been as prominent. The World Cup, the next largest international sporting event, has only seen China make it to the finals one time, in 2002. That year, they lost all three games in their group and score no goals. I can sympathize, as Scotland hasn't competed since 1998. We didn't fare much better that year either, losing two matches and managing a draw before being knocked out. All is not bleak though, Guangzhou Evergrande won the AFC Champions League this year, making them the first Chinese team to win the title in its current format. It may not the World Cup win that many Chinese football fans long for, but it's definitely a step in the right direction.
In can be said that China has definitely been appearing on more and more podiums as of late. Li Na, only two years ago, was the first woman from Asia to win a Grand Slam singles title in Tennis, when she won the 2011 French Open. Xiong Zhaozhong made history only last year by being the first Chinese national to win a professional boxing world title when he beat Mexican boxer Javier Martínez Resendiz.
Even when Chinese nationals aren't winning titles for themselves, China can be seen hosting more and more events and becoming an increasingly important destination on many sporting calanders. The Tour of Fuzhou event that I attended was only one of eight events on this year's UCI Asia tour that take place in China, more than any other country. The Royal Trophy, an event that pits a team of Asian golfers against a team of European golfers much like the Ryder Cup does with American and European golfers, is to be hosted in China this year at the Dragon Lake Golf Club in southern China's Guangzhou Province. Zhang Lianwei, a Guangdong native, is vice captain of the Asia team this year.
Indeed, it seems that China is not unaware of the great unifying power of sports. Perhaps more Chinese champions lie on the horizon, but if not then there will at least be many who claim their titles when competing on Chinese soil.
The author is a Scot living in Beijing