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Olympian advocates mass participation in sports

Sun Xiaochen
Updated: Mar 02,2021 16:05    China Daily

Retired Olympic champion and star political adviser Yang Yang is calling for more support and investment for grassroots sports development as China marches toward building a world sporting power.

Yang, a two-time Olympic gold medalist, is now a member of the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, China's top political advisory body. She consistently supports the public's participation in sports as a lifestyle choice as China shifts its sporting focus from winning medals to benefiting public well-being.

The mother of two stressed that helping children stay active where they live is critical for China's future on the global sports scene.

"I have a dream that I hope in all communities across our country, kids and their parents will enjoy sports with proper facilities and services anytime, anywhere," Yang said of her vision of a strong sporting nation before the fourth session of the 13th CPPCC National Committee opens on March 4.

"Playing sports will be appreciated by the public as a community culture … and people all would have equal opportunities and access to participate, not only just talented athletes, but also normal people. That's something I'm dreaming about."

In order to support the country's sports ambitions and help realize her dream, Yang, who joined the top political advisory body's sports panel in 2018, is working on a new proposal this year calling for the re-employment of retired athletes as trainers, managers and consultants in the consumer sports sector, especially for businesses operating winter events.

Knowledge and skills that champions have honed on the elite level will be valued and put to good use to benefit the public at the grassroots level, said Yang, who won China's first and second Winter Olympic gold medals in women's 500m and 1,000m in short-track speedskating at the 2002 Games in Salt Lake City, United States.

"Sports participation is growing and we need professional support for communities," said Yang, 45, who retired in 2006 after competing at her third Olympics in Turin, Italy.

"At the same time, there are retired athletes who may have difficulty in making a transition and finding new jobs. So we should have programs to support those athletes to continue their contribution with their skills."

Yang was drafted into the country's traditional State-run elite sports program when she was a teenager. She has seen many of her peers struggle to make a smooth transition to other careers after retirement due to the lack of a well-rounded education, which used to be neglected in the State system to make way for rigorous training.

Her own experience in multiple roles since retirement — International Olympic Committee member, founder of a commercial ice rink and now vice-president of the World Anti-Doping Agency — proves that elite Chinese athletes can also have a brighter post-athletic career with support in education and occupational training.

To help fellow retired athletes, Yang set up the Champion Foundation in Beijing in 2011 to provide former athletes foreign language and occupational education.

The soaring public interest in winter sports and the country's increasing investment in skating and skiing facilities have opened up more opportunities for retired athletes with the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics Games approaching, Yang said.

"It's very exciting to see how winter sports are growing because of the Games," said Yang, who operates a skating rink in Shanghai.

"We need to provide very professional services and management, especially in winter sports, where the expertise and knowledge of retired athletes are very much needed."

The 2022 Winter Olympics will be held Feb 4-20, 2022, in Beijing and co-host Zhangjiakou, Hebei province.

According to China's central sports governing body, the country aims to build 650 skating rinks and 800 ski resorts by 2022, laying the foundation for 300 million people to get involved in winter sports and for the sector to generate 1 trillion yuan ($154.7 billion) in value by 2025 at the end of the 14th Five-Year Plan (2021-25) period.