In China, Sports Are No Longer Just For Spectators

As Olympics Get Closer, Enthusiam Grows For Playing, Not Just Watching

By Published on .

BEIJING ( -- Sports are gaining popularity in China as the Olympics grow closer, according to the latest wave of the TNS Sport China Barometer survey conducted by CSM Media Research, a joint venture between CTR Market Research and the TNS Group.

Eighty-five percent of urban Chinese now practice at least one physical activity or sport on a regular basis, up from 72% when TNS Sport started to measure the attitude and relationship of Chinese to sports in 2003. This is a percentage that has risen continually since TNS Sport started to measure the attitude and relationship of Chinese to sports back in 2003.

Kia X Games in Shanghai
Kia X Games in Shanghai
Higher standards of living and more sports facilities in major cities have contributed to this trend. China has also hosted an increasing number of international sports events such as the F1 Shanghai Grand Prix, tours within China of major European football clubs, the Kia X Games Asia and, of course, the upcoming 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing.

In the latest poll conducted in May 2008 by TNS Sport China, the top five sports most practiced by Chinese people include walking (51.6%), jogging (32%), badminton (26.4%), cycling (18.8%) and swimming (14.7%). The least practiced sports are tennis (0.6%) and golf (0.5%).

In contrast to western countries, where soccer is immensely popular, just 5.9% of urban Chinese mentioned having played soccer recently. There are few soccer fields within urban China, where expensive land contributes to the lack of facilities while harsh weather conditions limit outdoor activities both in winter and summer. However, the popularity of soccer has increased year-on-year over the last five years from a base of virtually nobody playing this sport.

At 11.9%, basketball ranks in 7th position just behind table tennis, traditionally China's national sport and still a favorite pastime. Basketball is the sport most favored by youths aged between 15 and 24, however, with nearly one in three playing basketball on China's many city-center playgrounds. With a national hero like Yao Ming, basketball's popularity is likely to continue and motivate people to play in their spare time.

Interest in both the Olympics and in sports in general has been on the rise over the last year. For sports in general, the average based on a 10-point scale has risen from just over six to 6.5.

For the Olympics, the average moved from 6.4 to 6.8. CSM Media Research has also measured overall Olympic satisfaction. On average, consumers in China score their satisfaction at 7.6 out of 10, the highest it has been since measurement started.

What's driving interest in sports besides enthusiasm about the Olympic Games? A desire to show off, according to Pierre Justo, managing director, China of TNS Sport in Beijing.

Pierre Justo in Beijing
Pierre Justo in Beijing
"In China, sport is seen as an up-market activity which allows people to show off their economic and financial status. Sport is becoming increasingly important to the Chinese. As this way of thinking is not expected to change any time soon, we can expect to see an increase in the practice of less popular sports like tennis, or even golf, with new facilities being built every day. Extreme sports activities could also come into vogue," said Mr. Justo.

As for the Olympics, when Chinese were asked which sport they would be most interested in during the Beijing Games, 52.9% said they were most interested in table tennis, followed by basketball (43.9%) and track and field (40.9%). China has high expectations for winning Olympic gold medals in those three sports.
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