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Can China Be Safe Haven for Sports amid Global Crisis
    2008-12-24 09:16:39     Xinhua

When the global economic downturn hit, sports did not escape unscathed.

American insurance giant AIG, the shirt sponsor of Manchester United, went bankrupt in the global financial upheaval, leaving the England powerhouse feeling the heat.

Pundits have warned that a top English club may face closing down as English football has amassed debts of around three billion pounds (5.2 billion U.S. dollars) at all levels of the game.

Formula One saw Japanese carmakers Honda and Suzuki withdrawing and French Grand Prix dropped. A third Japanese constructor Subaru soon followed suit by quitting the world rally championship. The worldwide financial crisis left major manufacturers shedding jobs and halting production lines amid plunging sales and revenues.

As sports felt the pain of the crunch, can China, the new giant and fast growing sport market, be a safe haven?

Since winning the bid for the 2008 Olympic Games, Beijing and other major cities in China have become the favorite places for international sport events.

The Winter World University Games takes place in early 2009 in northeastern city Harbin before southern metropolis Guangzhou hosts the Asian Games in 2010. In 2011, the summer Universiade will be staged in Shenzhen, which has been a window to China's economic reform since it became the first Chinese city to have a taste of market economy.

Beijing's state-of-art shooting range built for the Olympics will be kept busy in the following three years by holding World Cup, and Shanghai has won the permanent right to host the tennis Masters starting from next year.

Liu Qingzao, professor of Shanghai University of Sport, argued that China's sport industry was affected by the financial crunch, taking the sponsorship for example.

"Some sponsors have cut back on sponsorships. Others are having a second thought on their sponsorship decision," said Liu, who is also an advisor for next year's National Games in Shandong province.

"Some enterprises told me that the National Sports Meet in 2010 will be staged at a very unlucky time," he added.

The National Sports Meet is a Chinese version of the World Games, featuring mainly non-Olymic events as opposed to the quadrennial National Games.

But China won't quit organizing all these events. What they need to do is to adjust.

"The organizers won't back down on their commitments. A successful Beijing Olympics has proven China's ability to host large-scale sport events," said Liu Liji, whose mentor is International Olympic Committee member He Zhenliang who helped Beijing win the 2008 Olympic bid.

"Under such circumstances, the organizers should stick to their budgets and do not rush into decisions," Liu said.

Wei Jizhong, president of the International Volleyball Federation, agreed.

"Chinese organizers are capable of hosting high-quality sports events," he said. "But they should be economical."

Despite the highs and lows of world economy, the Chinese market remains an attraction.

The preparations for sports events are still on track as the Asian Games organizers already signed 13 partners including South Korean consumer electronics giant Samsung while the National Games nabbed seven partners, according to Guangming Daily.

Last month, China announced a 4 trillion yuan (about 584 million U.S. dollars) economic stimulus package designed to boost domestic demand and maintain fast and steady growth amid the crisis.

Experts said that China's sport industry also needs stimulation propelled by internal demands.

"We should not ignore the fact that Chinese are willing to pay for sports, either it be facilities or sportswear. At present, there is a huge market in fitness training and sport organization," said Liu Qingzao.

A 2007 Survey of "Sport for All" in China, released by China's State General Administration of Sport, said a little more than 28 percent of over 1.3 billion Chinese have physical exercises at least three times a week, with a minimum duration of 30 minutes while 340 million people at least exercised once.

It also showed that more than 70 percent of people spent money on sport and the average spending was 593 yuan (about 86.6 U.S. dollars).

"The Sport for All Program is vital in cranking up domestic demand in the sport industry," said Liu Liji.

Xiao Tian, vice director of the State General Administration of Sport, saw a silver lining of the economic crisis.

"The Olympics raised people's awareness of participating in sports and brought up an opportunity for China's sport industry," said Xiao. "The industry should seize on the chance to develop when China is expanding internal demands. To some extent, the economic crisis may turn into a good thing for the industry."

 
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