Chinese Sports Ensembles and Their Legacy

China is Super Super

If you are keen football fan, in 2017 you must have seen the kerfuffle the rumored move of one Diego Costa from 2016-17 English Premier League champions, Chelsea to some nondescript Chinese team and an even more nondescript football league.

Having lured Brazilian youngster Oscar with a multi-million deal from the same team it almost seemed a no-brainer that the Spanish striker (Costa) would follow suit without much ado. This was during the transfer window open within Dec-Jan mid-season break of the European leagues. However, the deal fell through but indeed the Chinese Super League – the top-tier football league had finally shone its spotlight to the rest of the world. This is a league which included some of the budding and former stars as Argentine Carlos Tevez, Brazilian Ramires,to name but a few. 

Foreign football stars in Chinese Football league - (Image courtesy of https://the18.com/)
Foreign football stars in Chinese Football league – (Image courtesy of https://the18.com/)

 

Interestingly this allure seemed to have attracted Kenya’s own striking talent, former Gor Mahia Michael Olunga who had plied his trade in Europe and seemed destined for the stars – who ended up with the Chinese club – Guizhou Zhicheng {he’s currently plying his trade in Japanese club Kashiwa Reysol}

Back to the Chinese Super League in football, thanks to the buzz created around it, it did get much coverage in mainstream media. This also forced the Chinese Football Federation (or should we say after a slight nudge of the ruling Communist Party…?) to introduce a quota, which forced the teams to limit the number of foreign players. A sampling of say 11 players, seven ought to be Chinese, two from the Asian continent in addition, two from other parts of the world or something close to that…

This was in a bid to curtail foreign players’ dominance (thanks to the allure of the monies involved). This also hastened introduction of a salary cap to ensure players will not run the clubs aground with extravagant pay packages. 

However, like some things Chinese, the Football League came with a bang – slowing down to a whimper. Early July 2017, 13 clubs in the top tier were in the red with claims of breach of financial regulations about pay, bonuses and players transfer fees. The Asian Football Confederation is in pursuit of these claims and hoping to iron the Chinese football scene; on sports infrastructure, Chinese cities have sought to bid for major sporting events with the highlight of this being the 2008 Beijing Olympics Games. This sports renaissance was an important milestone to announce the Chinese ‘dragon’ of the 21st century. 

Chinese-African alliance? (Image courtesy of www.kenyastockholm.com)
Chinese-African alliance? (Image courtesy of www.kenyastockholm.com)

Beyond their local space, the Chinese made deliberate moves into Africa and other developing economies to form the core of infrastructural projects. With what critics call stadium diplomacy, the Chinese authorities undertake to finance the construction or maintenance of stadia, in exchange the government of the day signs off with Chinese contractors offering support and exposure to their own. There are over 40 stadia constructed or refurbished by Chinese contractors in the last 10-15 years in Africa alone!  

In contemporary times, the Chinese aid focuses on themes of “equality, mutual benefit and no-strings attached”, according to China’s Information Office of the State Council. This form of committing foreign aid and subsidized loans makes the Chinese attractive to Government functionaries’ especially in Africa. 

 This model revamped the Kasarani stadium right here in Kenya. There was an urgency to the process as Kenya had bid and won to host the last World Under-18 Athletics championships early in July 2017. A successful event depending on how you view, though not without heavy Government subsidies – like the ‘free entry which saw the stadium fill to capacity in the last 2 days of the event.

Old is gold?
We pat ourselves in the back for hosting, an event of such magnitude even as the country prepares for a momentous election in August. It is important to note what the legacy of such huge infrastructure projects is and how the Government of China would support African governments.
The only other major sporting event (of such magnitude) besides this that Kenya held was the Africa Athletics championships in 2010 and the All-Africa Games in 1987. Both events necessitated the construction and refurbishment of two of the largest sports edifices in Kenya. Besides the occasional tournaments such as the Safari Sevens, Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers and athletics meets, the venues usually go for long periods unused and in disrepair.

Estadio 11 De Novembro - Angola
Estadio 11 De Novembro – Angola

The current administration had promised five state-of-the-art stadia by 2017 while getting into government. In 2014-5, a baseline study was done on which venues were likely to be constructed or repaired; the process was both tedious and mired in both national and county diplomacy. Choosing whom to believe, we would think this was an overkill. As much as Kenya is a sporting powerhouse in the region and indeed in Africa, it would be prudent to look at what are the priorities – new investments in sports infrastructure or refurbishment and appraisal of existing stadia and sports facilities.
This needs to follow with a deliberate effort to engage the youth and citizenry in sporting activities both as a recreational and career activity. Unfortunately, the disjointed efforts from the national government, county administrators’ as well as sports bodies has seen the country without a coherent sports and recreation policy guideline.

Legacy and not the Subaru…
Perhaps one thing we ought to learn better from the Chinese or other ‘benevolent countries’ while developing our sports infrastructure is the legacy of these venues.
Examples such as the London Olympics venues in 2012 which have either been converted into national sporting venues or sold out to clubs, there is need to have a commercial viability to our sporting venues and sports investments.  Committing investments such as was done for the World Under-18 Youth Athletics champions then leaving these to lay waste is unacceptable. IAAF, which provided some of the funds to the event, was satisfied with the Government support. Collaborating with higher learning institutions, which would host sports infrastructure like the High Performance centre proposed at Kenyatta University, is a step in the right direction. Again though, there has to be deliberate and calculated move to engage the public in owning and using such facilities.
This will ensure the legacy of major sports events is not lost on the public and a sense of despair and dishonesty pervades sports edifices and related investments.

Back to our Asian partners. With the entreaties to our national governments to engage in exploiting opportunities for investing in Kenya and indeed in Africa, remember the populace will only accept to be blind for only so long. If there is no genuine public good in investing in such infrastructure, it will be a matter of time before the same public revolts and openly opposes any investments.

To paraphrase Zig Ziglar, “You don’t build a stadium, you build people, and the people build the stadium”.