XIONG Huan 熊欢

As China opens to the outside world, sports enthusiasts across the country are revving up and teeing off. Auto racing and golf, among other sporting activities, are becoming very popular in China.

The emergence of these new sports — and the proliferation of professional sports events and luxury sports venues — is the consequence of a growing middle class and newly wealthy urban populations. Furthermore, the Chinese national sports policy, which is turning its attention from political to commercial outcomes, has only helped to spur the boom of Western luxury sports in China.

Auto Racing Roars into China

With the rapid increase in the ownership of private cars in China, auto racing is no longer considered an elite sport enjoyed only by Westerners. The Macao Grand Prix Races (MGPR), held in November in the streets of Macau, is the pioneer of China’s auto racing sport. It is known for being the only street circuit racing event in which both car and motorcycle races are held; every year the event attracts more than 300 among racing drivers and cycle riders.

MGPR was originally conceived in 1954 as a treasure hunt around the streets of the city, but shortly thereafter it was suggested that the hunt’s track could host an amateur racing event for local motor enthusiasts. The race continued as an amateur event until 1966, when Belgian driver Mauro Bianchi entered the race with a car by Renault Sport, mostly to promote Renault’s image in Hong Kong; this move by Bianchi led to more and more professional teams entering the Macao Grand Prix. Then, in 1967 a motorcycle race was introduced. In 1983 it was decided by the organizers that since Formula Atlantic (single-seat formula cars with engines not exceeding 1600 cc in capacity ) was becoming obsolete, the race would be held as a Formula Three (lightweight tube-frame chassis powered by 500 cc motorcycle engines) event.

China’s Emerging Elite

Golfing now starts young among China’s new upper class. In 2006, the International Herald Tribune (26 September 2006) reported on affluent Chinese parents who give their five-year-old children daily golf lessons during summer vacation at a Shanghai golf complex. The individual, two-hour lessons with a Scottish golf pro carry a $200 price tag. During the school year, weekend practice sessions at the local driving range will have to suffice. Other newly popular sports for children of the elite include horseback riding, ice skating, skiing, and polo.

Upper-class Chinese adults are finding that luxury cars are becoming the item of choice. According to the Wall Street Journal (12 April 2007), Jaguars, Mercedes, Bentleys, and Cadillacs are showing up among China’s new elite — with owner clubs springing up as well. With luxury-car sales doubling between 2004 and 2007, it’s not surprising that Rolls-Royce has opened a showroom in China — though, interestingly, the location is Chengdu, a city where incomes are far lower than in Beijing or Shanghai. And Ferrari has a showroom in Dalian, another city not known for its affluence. While only about .038 percent (about half a million) of China’s population has sufficient disposable income to pay from $200,000 to $700,000 for luxury cars, that group is increasing by an astounding 20 percent annually.

Today, MGPR consists of the Macau Motorcycle Grand Prix, the World Touring Car Championship Guia Race, and the Macau F3 Grand Prix. The winner of the Macau Formula 3 Grand Prix is awarded the FIA Intercontinental Formula 3 Cup. In addition there are the Porsche Carrera Cup Asia race, the Formula Renault 2000 race, the Macau Cup. and the Scooter race in Macau.

MGPR is not only a sporting event, but also a tourist attraction for Macao. The development of sports tourism is one of the tourist policies of the Macao Special Administrative Region government.

In June 2004 Shanghai completed the construction of a state-of-the-art racing circuit. However, Shanghai lacks the experience of hosting an international racing event. Macao has hosted MGPR for fifty-four years, which is almost as long as the history of Formula One races. Macao is willing to share its organizational experience and provide technical support and personnel training to assist Shanghai in hosting its Formula One Grand Prix. There is another reason why the MGPR has attracted special attention: Guangdong Province, Beijing, and Shanghai were given the green light by the central government to pilot individual travel to Hong Kong and Macao beginning in August 2003, which was expected to substantially increase the number of spectators to the MGPR. (Prior to August 2003, travelers from mainland China to Hong Kong and Macau could not travel on an individual basis; they could only travel on business visas or in group tours.)

The Federation of Automobile Sports of the People’s Republic of China (FASC) is a newly organized sports organization responsible for the development of automobile sport under the leadership of China’s National General Administration Bureau of Sports. The rapid development of China’s auto industry and the rise of people’s living standards certainly have pushed China’s auto sports to a higher level of development. Now, FASC is determined to guide the development of China’s auto and auto-related industries as contributors to the Chinese economy. It will also contribute to enriching the -after–work life of the people. Through years of hard work, FASC has established a perfect publicity work system. FASC has promised that it will upgrade the status of auto sports continuously, as well as make it a popular entertainment for the general public.

Golf Takes Hold

Golf in China has come a long way since the country’s last emperor, PU Yi 溥仪, took lessons from his English tutor in the 1920s. In Beijing today, being a member of the right golf club is becoming the same status symbol for the Communist elite as it is for capitalists in the West. Although golf is still an elite sport in China, there are now more than two hundred officially registered courses throughout the country, with one thousand more under construction. In China golf means more than watching Tiger Woods on the course or acting as a spokesperson for Accenture or Rolex.

Golf also means profit. Major East Coast and interior cities now feel they must have a course to cater to foreign investors and tourists. Whereas golf was a forbidden pastime in the 1950s and 1960s, it is now a virtual requirement for any Chinese town hoping to assert its economic viability to have a course.

As a golfing destination, China offers arguably some of the best golf facilities anywhere in the world. Everything about a Chinese golfing experience is first class. The accommodations are superb, the food is gourmet, and the shopping, sightseeing, and culture makes a golf tour to China an unforgettable adventure.

Major Golf Tournaments

The BMW Asian Open is a men’s professional tournament. The tournament began in 2002 and was played in Taiwan for its first two years before moving to mainland China. It is cosanctioned by the Asian Tour and the European Tour and is part of the European Tour’s drive to expand into Asia in general and China in particular.

The HSBC (Hong Kong Shanghai Bank of China) Champions is a men’s professional seventy-two-hole tournament played annually since November 2005, in Shanghai.

The TCL (one of China’s largest consumer electronics enterprises) Classic is a men’s professional tournament played annually in Sanya on Hainan. The tournament was first played in 2002 and sanctioned by the Asian Tour. The tournament was not held in 2003 or 2004 but was reintroduced in 2005 with cosanctioning by the European Tour, consistent with the latter’s expansion into China,

The Volvo China Open is a men’s tournament that is cosanctioned by the European Tour and the Asian Tour. The event was first played in 1995 and has been part of the European Tour’s schedule since 2003.

Source: Xiong Huan. (2008). New sports in China. In Fan Hong, Duncan Mackay & Karen Christensen (Eds.), China Gold, China’s Quest for Global Power and Olympic Glory, pp. 81–83. Great Barrington, MA: Berkshire Publishing.

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