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China's sports boom proves attractive

News, 04 May 2017
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GUANGZHOU: China's sports boom embraces everything from running to tennis, with entrepreneurs both large and small, local and foreign exploring ways to cash in.

Last week, for example, Dalian Wanda Group, controlled by the country's richest man Wang Jianlin, signed a deal to sponsor marathon races with the world's top organizer, Abbott World Marathon Majors.

The popularity of long-distance running in China has surged: six years ago there were 22 marathons, this year more than 400 are planned.

"This is part of the central government's nationwide campaign," Xu Guangyou, director of the Qingyuan city sports bureau, told NPR. "They want more marathons and more people exercising."

And from an economic perspective, "marathons boost tourism," he added. "You come here, run a marathon and see how beautiful the city is. Every hotel room in town is occupied." Qingyuan's third annual marathon, held in March, attracted 23,000 runners.

The interest in running has also boosted the sales of foreign sports shoe makers like Nike and Asics.

At the other end of the scale, the South China Morning Post related how Li Zhiguang, a Ghangzhou underwear manufacturer, has set up a series of tennis tournaments which anyone can enter for a fee; his first one attracted 200 entrants.

"Middle-class and affluent Chinese are spending a growing amount of time and money on sports – being fit means a better life," said Li.

While international sportswear and equipment brands stand to gain from this development, sports governing bodies also see an opportunity.

The International Cricket Council, for example, has decided that "China is a priority for development" and believes that adding cricket to the roster of Olympic sports will be key to boosting interest as Olympic sports benefit from extra government funding and sponsor interest.

But even Olympic sports may not be viewed kindly by the authorities. In January, the government outlawed more than 100 golf courses around the country as it clamped down on illegal land and water use.

Golf's popularity has also suffered from stricter anti-corruption rules, which list playing golf as a violation.

Data sourced from Reuters, South China Morning Post, NPR, Xinhua; additional content by WARC staff

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