China’s sports governing bodies have invited ethnic Chinese athletes around the world to participate in the country’s 2017 National Games, a move state media is calling “unprecedented.”
Signed Wednesday by the China Olympic Committee and the All-China Sports Federation, two subordinate entities of the country’s General Administration of Sport, the declaration opens participation in the games to members of the Chinese diaspora, including Chinese nationals living abroad, descendants of Chinese immigrants, and Chinese who have obtained foreign citizenship.
Overseas athletes of Chinese heritage are now eligible to participate in the 26 non-team events at the games, which will be held Aug. 27 to Sept. 8 in the northern city of Tianjin. Liu Xiaonong, director of competitive sports at the General Administration of Sport, told state news agency Xinhua that such athletes will be eligible to participate if they can perform at least as well as the top 8 to 10 mainland athletes in each event. Registration and more information will be handled through a mobile app, which has not yet been released.
In addition to providing practical information, the General Administration of Sport statement invokes the realization of the “Chinese dream” and the rejuvenation of a united China. Li Yingchuan, vice minister of the General Administration of Sport, said the decision was made “to further unite the power and wisdom of overseas and foreign Chinese, enhance the cohesion and solidarity of the Chinese nation,” and “promote the development of the sports industry in China.”
At the time of publication, a spokesperson from the General Administration of Sport had not yet responded to Sixth Tone’s request for comment.
The move comes just days after Premier Li Keqiang spoke at Monday’s overseas Chinese industrial and commercial congress in Beijing, at which he called on Chinese living abroad to contribute to the Chinese economy through innovation in their respective fields.
In another sign that the country is seeking to attract more foreign sporting talent, Beijing Sport University in May announced a One Belt, One Road scholarship for exceptional international athletes. A total of 5 million yuan (around $735,000) has been invested in the scholarship program, named after China’s signature intercontinental trading initiative. The school’s Party secretary, Cao Weidong, told Xinhua that the school hopes the scholarship will foster international cooperation and widen the domestic talent pool ahead of the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing.
In early June, Beijing-based ice hockey club Kunlun Red Star established a women’s ice hockey team in Vancouver, Canada. The team will play in the Canadian Women’s Hockey League, and players will be primarily Chinese nationals and overseas Chinese. Vice Minister Li told Xinhua the team was formed in order to raise the skill level of the Chinese national team through collaborative training and competition as it prepares for the 2022 Games.
While the presence of a Chinese ice hockey team in Canada is hoped to spur the Chinese national team to up its game, overseas Chinese participating in this year’s National Games will be watched closely to see how they might contribute in future Olympics. “If we spot talent among the overseas Chinese athletes, and if they have Chinese citizenship,” said Director Liu, “there’s a possibility that we might recruit them to participate in the 2020 Tokyo Games.”
Contributions: Qian Zhecheng; editor: David Paulk.
(Header image: Chinese athletes compete in a track event at the 12th National Games in Shenyang, Liaoning province, Sept. 10, 2013. Guo Liliang/VCG)