Shaping up in the suburbs

By SHI FUTIAN | (China Daily)| Updated : 2018-12-04

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A coach mobilizes boys before a football match at the "Man-up training club" in Beijing. Photos By Zou Hong / China Daily

How one district of Qingdao has become a paragon of China's fitness-for-all ideal

It's no longer just trendy urbanites in China's major cities that are catching the fitness bug.

Now, thanks to the ever-extending reach of the National Fitness Program, suburban areas such as the Chengyang district of Qingdao are getting in shape too.

The 553-square-kilometer district-population one million-has spent around 900 million yuan ($129 million) upgrading its fitness program, with impressive results.

Chengyang now boasts 400 km of free hiking trails, running tracks that total 100 km and a whopping 37 sports parks.

"The goal is to make our sports and fitness program a calling card of our district," Chengyang's deputy head, Lyu Yongcui, told China Daily on Thursday.

Aiming to have facilities within just a few minutes' walk of each resident, locals now have access to an average of 5.7 square meters of sporting amenities, almost three times the national target for 2025.

"The 37 sports parks are the achievement that we are most proud of," said Xu Lihua, director of Chengyang's sports development center.

"The parks are big enough and they are spread throughout the district to meet people's fitness needs. Inside the parks, there are basketball and tennis courts, soccer pitches, table tennis facilities ... the list goes on.

"More importantly, all of the parks are free to the public. The cost to the local government is 40 million yuan a year."

Chengyang City Sports Park is a shining example of that investment.

Established in 2011, a 15 million yuan expenditure on a 40,000 sq m site has built a soccer pitch encircled by a running track, as well as four basketball, two volleyball and two tennis courts.

The public can also rent sports equipment at bargain prices, with a tennis racket, for example, costing just 0.01 yuan for 30 minutes.

Participation figures testify to the program's success. Chengyang boasts about 2,000 grassroots fitness groups, 500 fitness clubs, 41 local sports organizations, over 100 marathon-running groups and about 120 grassroots soccer teams.

"It was hard to find place for us to play soccer and now everything's changed," said office worker Yuan Farun, who is taking full advantage of the new facilities.

"It's very convenient for us to play at the soccer park. It's free and has security and a cleaning service."

Costing 17 million yuan, the soccer park comprises two seven-a-side and four five-a-side pitches, which have staged more than 2,000 games since it was opened in 2015.

Chengyang's fitness push has even borne fruit on the international stage, with 17 athletes from the district selected for Team China duty in various sports and four returning from this summer's Asian Games in Indonesia with medals-three gold and one silver.

The Chengyang project is a product of the National Fitness Program for 2016-20, aimed at encouraging 700 million Chinese to take part in physical exercise at least once a week.

Another city to reap the benefits of the national initiative is Shanghai, a metropolis that already had a rich sporting tradition and a reputation for excellence in hosting international visitors such as basketball's NBA, motor sports' Formula One and athletics' Diamond League.

A recently published report revealed that in 2017 Shanghai spent around 1.2 billion yuan on public fitness, with 3.14 million sq m of new sports venues built, and around 700,000 people taking part in 1,528 organized activities.

The report also found that about 92.4 percent of Shanghai residents spent money on sport in 2017 (a median of 2,030 yuan, up 530 yuan from the previous year).

Financially fit

In Qingdao, Chengyang district is showing how upgrading existing infrastructure can reap rewards.

Tiancun Sports Field, for example, was originally a playground for the local elementary school but now boasts a running track-enclosed soccer pitch, basketball courts and table tennis facilities.

The school kids have use of the park from 7:30 am till 5 pm, Monday to Friday, with the remainder of the time siphoned off for public use.

To ease the burden on the school, the local government is responsible for the park's security, management and maintenance.

"Now about 3,000 residents from 10 of the nearby communities use the park on a daily basis," said school principal Zhang Lingyun.

"The park can now meet the needs of about 20,000 residents. The local government spends about 600,000 yuan to operate it."

More regeneration is in evidence in Chengyang, where an old factory complex now houses four fitness clubs with 5,500 registered customers and 50 trainers.

The project generated 6 million yuan in 2017, with that figure projected to rise to 7 million by 2019.

All in all, it adds up to a fitter, stronger and happier China.