2018-03-02 08:13:13

China’s Ministry of Education and General Administration of Sport are urging primary and secondary schools across the country to add winter sports to their curricula.

After China’s lackluster performance at this year’s Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, the two government bureaus released a joint plan on Tuesday that aims to make winter sports more accessible to students — some of whom might become world-class athletes.

Gou Zhongwen, head of the sports administration, said in a report published Friday that China’s Olympic athletes “had not done enough physical and mental preparation” for some of the events. Specifically, he criticized this year’s cohort for not being well-rounded: They’re good at ice events, he noted, but weak at snow events. Gou went on to say that China lacks elite athletes in certain sports, without specifying which.

But given enough time, this year’s ambitious plan could change all that.

By 2020, over 2,000 primary or secondary schools featuring winter sports should be established, according to the plan. By 2025, that figure should grow to 5,000 schools. Beijing and Hebei — which will host most of the events during the 2022 Winter Olympics — will have to build 200 such schools each by 2020, while each of the country’s other provinces, municipalities, and autonomous regions should name 10 schools as “model institutions for Winter Olympics and Winter Paralympics education.”

According to Ministry of Education data published in July 2017, China had 177,000 primary schools and 521,000 secondary schools by the end of 2016 — but only 75 percent of the former, and 85 percent of the latter, met national standards for recreation areas.

In addition to building new athletics-oriented schools, the plan encourages existing schools in northern provinces to incorporate winter sports into their curricula, and southern schools that rarely see snow to partner with local ice rinks, for example, to get kids involved in winter sports.

This is not China’s first initiative to prepare for the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing. In November 2016, the General Administration of Sport, along with 23 other government-affiliated authorities, rolled out a national plan to promote winter sports not among children, but among everyone. The administration’s goal: to get 300 million people — around a quarter of the country’s population — participating in winter sports.

But the 2016 plan has yet to bear fruit, at least on the world stage. In this year’s recently concluded Winter Olympics, China finished 14th out of the 30 countries that medaled, having earned just a single gold.

Cao Jihong, a professor at Shenyang Sport University in northeastern China’s Liaoning province, cautioned that the new plan should be implemented economically. “Building artificial ice rinks or ski resorts can cost a lot of money,” she said, “plus maintenance fees can be even higher.”

But Cao also acknowledged the plan’s potential merits. “Promoting [winter sports] can not only improve teenagers’ physical fitness, but also spread the positive Olympic values of fair competition, national pride, and cross-cultural understanding,” she said.

Editor: David Paulk.

(Header image: Students practice curling at a school in Beijing, Jan. 4, 2018. Fu Tian/VCG)