Three Quick Observations About Sports in Beijing

I write this on a Monday morning in Beijing, just as the United States is settling in for what’s bound to be a long night watching the Emmy Awards.  This is my seventh trip to China in the past year, although it’s my first since March.

I’m afraid that I can’t go into a deep analysis of sporting life in China.  That is likely a topic of a PhD dissertation somewhere.  Instead, let me make a few observations about sports here.

Sports is More Global Than Local

Beijing Guoan F.C. - Did Anyone Notice They Won the Championship?

On an earlier trip in March, the local Beijing soccer team, Beijing Guoan F.C., played for and won the championship of the Chinese Super League.  If the buzz in cities is said to be “palpable” for big events, then the buzz in Beijing at the time was, well, “unpalpable.”  There was no talk of it among our Chinese colleagues and little mention in the English-language newspaper, China Daily.  Imagine Manchester United or Olympic Marseilles or even Real Salt Lake winning a championship and no one noticing.  Can’t happen.

There is a local channel, CCTV 5, which is dedicated to sports.  It shows mostly international fare, from what I can tell.  I watched USA-Croatia live in the basketball world championships Saturday night. As I write, it’s showing a replay of China-Germany from the 2008 Olympics.  (The cynic in me says that China wins, but I’ll have to wait and see.)   Back in February, this channel broadcast the Super Bowl with Chinese announcers.  They returned late from halftime, and we missed the onside kick by the Saints, but that was the only glitch.

There was a buzz last spring when Stephon Marbury came over to play basketball in Shanxi in the Chinese Basketball Association, but that died down after a while.  I think that’s the way it is with local sports leagues here.  The interest rises with news and then dies out.

The expat communities in major cities, however, keep the buzz going about English football, American basketball and other sports with regular gatherings to watch the games at local watering holes.

ESPN is not ESPN

Satellite television available in western hotels and in western apartments has a channel called ESPN.  This is not your mother’s ESPN.  The goal of ESPN is not to push American sports on the rest of the world, but is to bring the model of sports broadcasting outside the US.  Thus, it broadcasts mostly sports of relevance to Europe and Asia:  soccer, auto racing, and motocross.   This morning, ESPN ran a 20 minutes loop of “ESPNews” showing soccer, golf and auto racing over and over and over.  I did get to watch Yankees-White Sox on Sunday morning (Saturday night), but those games aren’t regular, except for the weekly Sunday night game.  Right now, ESPN is showing a tape of a Little League World Series game between Hawaii and Texas.

If you want to catch highlights of your favorite MLB, NHL, NBA or NFL teams, your best bet remains, by far, the Web.  If you are going to be over here for an extended period, you may want to consider either a) subscribing to one of the league’s online broadcast packages; b) getting a Slingbox to connect from home;  or c) getting knowledgeable about free online broadcast feeds.

Expats – Have Sports Will Travel

The cover story of September issue of The Beijinger, the local journal for expat activities, is about sports.  Always good at covering the city’s restaurant and bar scene, the Beijinger showcases the breadth of sports available to expats, from cricket to softball to Australian rules football to croquet.  I know from searching before, that there are some local pick-up ice hockey games.

As some of you may know, when you put a bunch of expats in one spot, sports leagues are bound to start up.  The global phenomenon that is the Hash House Harriers is a great example.  Back in the early 1990’s, Mrs. Spidey and I lived in Moscow and played in the broomball league, a full contact version of that game you played in college, played on flooded tennis courts at the foreign embassies in frigid Moscow.  Expats, as you know, can’t exist without sports leagues, and I’m ecstatic that br00mball is alive and well in Moscow.

At the same time, perhaps as part of Beijing’s continued emergence as a global city, I see health clubs sprouting up and more and more joggers out in the pollution.  There is a Beijing Marathon and a Beijing Triathlon.  In The Beijinger, they highlighted “The Great Wall Charity Challenge.”  This team event involves sailing 40KM, running 12KM and then “scrambling” up the Great Wall for 2KM.  Sounds intriguing to me – except for that sailing part.

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