How Soccer Explains the World, Part II

|

Inspired by the sympathies of Chinese soccer fans during this year's World Cup, Daniel Bell turns out an amusing essay on how what teams the Chinese root for explains everything about their worldviews.

The Chinese state's pursuit of Olympic gold medals illustrates these dangers. China's best athletes are selected at a very young age and made to undergo rigorous state-sponsored physical education, with little attention paid to other forms of learning. The athletes are used by the state to score political points, and the announcers at Olympic Games make less-than-subtle claims about the greatness of the Chinese nation. As the influential journalist Sang Ye puts it, "For China, athletics has little to do with sport per se. It is not concerned with either physical health or personal well-being. For the Chinese, athletic competitions are a struggle between political systems. They are a heady opiate administered to salve dreams of national glory" (see Sang Ye's revealing interview with an elite athlete in China Candid [University of California Press, 2006]). The near-term goal is to surpass the U.S. gold medal tally at the 2008 Olympic games in Beijing.

(Via A&L Daily).

Advertisement

NEXT: How Write In Votes Work...if You're a Republican

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. Italian soccer just went through a huge corruption scandal. The owners of their big club teams were paying off referees.

    Maybe the Chinese like Italian soccer because it’s just as corrupt as China itself?

  2. China’s best athletes are selected at a very young age and made to undergo rigorous state-sponsored physical education, with little attention paid to other forms of learning. The athletes are used by the state to score political points, and the announcers at Olympic Games make less-than-subtle claims about the greatness of the Chinese nation. As the influential journalist Sang Ye puts it, “For China, athletics has little to do with sport per se. It is not concerned with either physical health or personal well-being.

    This sounds a lot like the American system of sport, just substitute “corporations” instead of the Chinese government.

  3. Yes, Dan. Why I remember when my best friend was taken to Nike’s Soccer Education and Training Compound. We never saw him again, although we did sometimes get letters from him-heavily censored ones.

  4. Naw, that doesn’t sound like the football programs at West Virginia or FSU or Miami of Florida or Florida at all.

  5. For the Chinese, athletic competitions are a struggle between political systems.

    “In The Future There Will Be No Wars…But There Will Be…..Rollerball”.

  6. As the influential journalist Sang Ye puts it, “For China, athletics has little to do with sport per se. It is not concerned with either physical health or personal well-being. For the Chinese, athletic competitions are a struggle between political systems.

    Isn’t this how every nation views the Olympic games? Or was I missing something when I saw those classic confrontations like the “Miracle on Ice” or when Jesse Owens won in Nazi Germany?

  7. Isn’t this how every nation views the Olympic games? Or was I missing something when I saw those classic confrontations like the “Miracle on Ice” or when Jesse Owens won in Nazi Germany?

    Correct, and that’s why the Olympics have been utterly boring and pointless since the fall of the Soviet bloc.

    Now, if they’d allow Al Qaeda to field some teams…

  8. Yes, Dan. Why I remember when my best friend was taken to Nike’s Soccer Education and Training Compound. We never saw him again, although we did sometimes get letters from him-heavily censored ones.

    That is a difference – in America, we are skilled enough to convince young athletes that they want to go to Nike’s ABCD camp or a major college and play ball for free while others profit.

  9. go to Nike’s ABCD camp or a major college and play ball for free

    Some would call that taking a risk for future reward…investing…deferring gratification even. Not something the shortsighted…or conservative…mind usually embraces.

  10. Deus ex Machina

    “Isn’t this how every nation views the Olympic games?”

    Exactly. The amount of boasting when a national team wins or agonizing when it loses is ridiculous. Inevitably, politicians decide that “something must be done” and money gets poured into producing a winning team.

    Naturally, this leads to an “arms race” where each nation tries to find an edge over others.

    On the other hand, it is cheaper and less destructive than the other kind of arms race.

  11. Once we hold the majority of the world’s Olymic gold medals, the world will be OURS! HAHAHAHAHAhahahahahahaaa!

  12. And yet, Pat Tillman, gifted and accomplished athlete that he was, is still dead. Go figure.

  13. okay, i admit that i am that sappy sucker that the “world-in-olympic-harmony” message resonates with. i watch the olympics like a hawk. i don’t know why. i just do. especially the winter games. i think they’re awesome and i live hundreds and hundreds of miles from anything that could remotely be considered a mountain and i have no background or knowledge in any of the events.

    “On the other hand, it is cheaper and less destructive than the other kind of arms race.”

    maybe this is why i like the olympics so much.

    there are way too many track & field events in the summer games for china to even have a prayer of eclipsing our medal total. if any country passes us, it will be in the winter games where larger proportions of other countries participate in those kinds of sports than they do here.

  14. The Olympics have sucked since the Soviet bloc fell. That is also why it is hard to get worked up about losing to Irish guys in golf’s Ryder Cup. I don’t want to destroy those guys out of existence, I want to have a beer and a smoke with them.

    Sometimes kids play sports because sports are fun, although I get the feeling that statement is becoming less and less true.

  15. if any country passes us, it will be in the winter games where larger proportions of other countries participate in those kinds of sports than they do here.

    Actually downstater, the US was passed long ago in the Winter Olympics. The US hasn’t been on top of the medal count since 1932 at Lake Placid and, in fact, I believe that was the only time it ever was.

  16. thanks Brian Courts, that was me just trying to see if you were paying attention. good job. an A for you!

    apparently, when i said that i watch the olympics “like a hawk” i meant a blind hawk. with a poor memory. and no attention to detail.

    i’ll amend my original post to say that the only way the CHINESE will beat us in a medal count will be in the winter olympics because…well…uh…USA! USA! USA!

  17. “Naw, that doesn’t sound like the football programs at West Virginia or FSU or Miami of Florida or Florida at all.”

    Joe, there’s a HUGE difference between doing what those schools do to ADULTS and what China does to CHILDREN. If you want to morally equate us with China find a better example.

  18. Oh come on – American kid athletes are put through just as much hell as in China. You don’t win Olympic medals by starting to train in college.

    Anyway, there are several ways for China to beat the US in medals. Hell, East Germany came close in doing it the evil way. Or, they could ditch their crummy government, get rich, and have more people to train as athletes rather than scratching in the ground for a living. I’m guessing the strategy they’ll use in ’08 will be a little bit of both.

  19. “the glorious traditions of Italy” = diving

  20. rhywun: quite right. They start children in gymnastics at the age of two. They are hardly making a conscious decision to participate at that point and they are probably unaware that their lives will be different until they are nine or ten. And they are almost certainly indoctrinated by their parents, long before they are self-aware, of the importance of competing aggressively in the sport that has been chosen for them.

    It may be a little creepy to have the government pressuring parents to turn their children over to the state for athletic training but, since there are no lack of parents in the US willing to do it for financial gain rather than patriotism, one wonders if it really is all that different. Have we forgotten so soon that Tonya Harding’s mother beat her with a hairbrush? Smug assertions of moral superiority are generally a sign of self-delusion.

  21. Andy,

    There is a quantitative, not qualitative, difference between what China does with 7 and 10 year old kids, and what some “schools” do to 13-18 year old kids.

    That difference isn’t nothing, but it isn’t the world, either. Tell me that “China’s best athletes are selected at a very young age and made to undergo rigorous state-sponsored physical education, with little attention paid to other forms of learning. The athletes are used by the state to score political points, and the announcers at Olympic Games make less-than-subtle claims about the greatness of the Chinese nation,” doesn’t sound like FSU.

  22. Does FSU also censor its internet connections, crush all political opposition and encourage abortion of female fetuses?

  23. “the glorious traditions of Italy” = diving

    Roger that.

    Among other glorious traditions of Italy:
    whining
    catenaccio
    immense amounts of theatrical invocation of a higher power (folded hands, looking skyward)

  24. It may be a little creepy to have the government pressuring parents to turn their children over to the state for athletic training but, since there are no lack of parents in the US willing to do it for financial gain rather than patriotism, one wonders if it really is all that different.

    Except for the part where US parents aren’t turning their kids over to the government, or to anyone, really, this makes perfect sense.

  25. RC Dean: I’m not sure you read my comment. Parents in the US do indeed turn their children over to abusive coaches at the age of two or three for the purpose of athletic training. The training centers are pretty much the same everywhere because they all use the methods that work.

    You don’t like the Chinese very much and that’s just fine. But “amateur” sports is a sewer and I was using the story as an opening to comment on the state of the industry, in response to those who prefer to grandstand about how the Chinese are uniquely evil, evil, evil. See ed’s post above, in which the whole story about Chinese sports becomes a polemic against China’s abortion policy. China’s sports policy may be excessive, but it is not as far off the norm as you pretend, and that is an occasion for self-reflection.

  26. There there, ed. No, FSU does not do those things. There, you’re feelings are validated – we’re better’n dem dirty Chinese. Tell you what, I’ll hoot “U-S-A, U-S-A!” a couple times.

    Now, would you care to add something relevant to the disucssion? Maybe, a comment on whether the phrase “China’s best athletes are selected at a very young age and made to undergo rigorous state-sponsored physical education, with little attention paid to other forms of learning. The athletes are used by the state to score political points, and the announcers at Olympic Games make less-than-subtle claims about the greatness of the Chinese nation,” does or does not sound similar to the football programs at some major American universities?

    Cripes, everything is Sharks vs. Jets with some people.

  27. You’re really rooting for your analogy, huh, joe?

    Seriously, it’s a pretty forced comparison unless you can clarify who is playing what roles and/or state convincingly that (for example), a University really wields actual, no-shit political power in part through their football teams.

    And not to sound like an apologist for football programs (which I ain’t crazy about), but nowhere near all – even most – football programs “pay little attention to other forms of learning”. Hell, Ohio State and M*ch*gan, to name just two ginormous programs, quite clearly and openly show that they value “other forms”. Maybe not nearly to the extent of, say, Harvard and Yale, but the number of well-spoken, educated, genuinely good kids on those teams pretty closely reflects the student bodies at large as much as a group primarily built on athletics can.
    The student body at any large university as a whole has a good number of assholes and dumbasses.

    Maybe those two schools are extreme exceptions. Maybe Tressel and Carr are really, really good salesmen and talk a good game and coach the crap out of their players to not be public fuck-ups while they completely let the academics slide. Maybe I’m full of shit and the Miamis and Nebraskas and FSUs are the norm.

  28. get your 50% disoucnt now,CR7 Mercurial Vapor Superfly III FG Safari Soccer Cleats Shoes Green&Black;
    http://c2cdiscount.com/sport-s…..greenblack

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.