Changing China

Giant on the move

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China’s infertile ground for (some) Western sports

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Soccer is in a tight spot in China — literally. Huge crowds roar for Manchester United but the national team is a laughing stock at 108th in FIFA world rankings. Poor coaching, lack of grassroots development, even corruption and violence are variously cited as reasons for the sport’s demise. But the real reason may be more basic: the fact of physical space, or the lack thereof, in China.

If geography is a determinant of economic development, then it is fair to extrapolate that urban geography underpins the development of sports. And here’s the rub for soccer, not to mention American football and baseball. With few parks, small concrete schoolyards and a dearth of quiet streets, urban China offers little of the space needed for the sprawling play that defines those sports. Soccer has deep roots in China, but playing space has been squeezed as cities sprawl and swallow land in big gulps.

The NBA’s huge popularity in China has left other sports leagues salivating. They, too, dream of their own Yao Ming bringing forth TV audiences in the tens of millions and merchandising opportunities galore. But basketball can thank China’s spatial constraints more than its own marketing wizardry for such success. Dozens of nets crammed into schoolyards make the sport accessible to a huge number of young enthusiasts. The ease with which basketball has been woven into China’s urban fabric has a precedent in the explosion of Chinese table tennis in the 1950s. Both are simple enough games that can be played in tight spaces.

Curiously, the physical limitations of the crowded country augur well for one sport that uses more space than almost any other: golf. Unlike baseball, football and soccer, golf does not need a critical mass of ardent supporters to take off. Golf, in fact, can thrive in conditions of scarcity, when a small number of high-priced courses consolidate its position as an elite pastime. The lack of space in China makes it an expensive sport, out of reach for the great unwashed and just the ticket for the country’s nouveau riche.

from Africa News blog:

Did Dalai Lama ban make sense?

Organisers have postponed a conference of Nobel peace laureates in South Africa after the government denied a visa to Tibet's spiritual leader the Dalai Lama, who won the prize in 1989 - five years after South Africa’s Archbishop Desmond Tutu won his and four years before Nelson Mandela and F.W. de Klerk won theirs for their roles in ending the racist apartheid regime.

Although local media said the visa ban followed pressure from China, an increasingly important investor and trade partner, the government said it had not been influenced by Beijing and that the Dalai Lama's presence was just not in South Africa's best interest at the moment.

Should African coaches get more of a look in?

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Odemwingie shootsHalfway through their campaign at the Olympic Games, Nigeria coach Samson Siasia berated his players for a lack of discipline on the field and “ball-hogging”.

But perhaps a bit of African improvisation would not be such a bad thing.

Nigeria went on to reach the final of the tournament, beating old rivals the Ivory Coast and then thrashing Belgium 4-1 before coming unstuck against Argentina. Their semi-final performance against Belgium mixed moments of sublime skill with reckless defending and woeful, shoddy finishing. But the scoreline speaks for itself.

Beckham hits Beijing

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Beckham applaudsAs if any more glitz was needed at the Beijing Olympics, David Beckham flew into China at the weekend to promote the 2012 Games in London.

The former England captain has millions of fans in China. He will appear in the Bird’s Nest at the Olympics closing ceremony tonight, kicking a ball into the crowd from a red double-decker bus to symbolise the handover to London.

Beijing Games: picture of the day

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Maradona and Ronaldinho

Rickey Rogers writes: Pictures of sports idols don’t get much better than this one. Argentine soccer legend Diego Maradona kisses the hand of modern-day Brazilian idol Ronaldinho.

The rivalry between their countries, their differences in personality and the arrogance for which Maradona is known all make this fraction of a second one that in the sports world speaks volumes.

Does soccer belong at the Olympics?

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Messi

FIFA president Sepp Blatter says he does not see any need to change the format of the Olympic soccer tournament, which is restricted to under-23 teams and allows each to field up to three overage players.

Many people, however, feel that soccer is something of an unwelcome gatecrasher at the Games and that not bringing its top players is rather like turning up at the party with a bottle of cheap plonk.

Argentina see off sorry Brazil

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Messi and RonaldinhoThe cheers before kickoff in the Beijing Workers’ Stadium were for five-times world champions Brazil and Ronaldinho. At the final whistle, the Chinese crowd rose to acclaim Argentina after a 3-0 win against nine-man Brazil sent them through to the Olympic final.

China may be a relatively untapped soccer market, but the 50,000 plus crowd knew that the best team had won on the night.

South American rivalry to spice up the Games

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Argentina celebrateOnly one thing would give Argentina more pleasure than winning their second Olympic gold and that would be to stop Brazil from winning their first in the process.

The Olympic soccer tournament does not cut much ice in Europe but it is taken much more seriously in South America. Brazil have won the World Cup five times, the Copa America eight and the Confederations Cup twice and their failure to add an Olympic gold to their collection rankles.

The Olympics? But I could be watching Stoke City…

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Bolt on trackI had always thought the height of sporting ecstasy was watching my beloved Stoke City score a goal.

Now I’m at the Olympics in Beijing, well, I think I still do… but I must admit this life-long credo is coming under severe strain.

Argentina to play Siberia as Batista gets lost in translation

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Argentine journalists were startled to learn that their team would be playing a match against Siberia at the Olympic football tournament. At least, that is what the official translation said.

Coach Sergio Batista, speaking ahead of a game against Serbia, looked on it utter bewilderment as one interpreter attempted to translate his answers from Spanish into Chinese and another then tried to translate the Chinese version of his answer into English.

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