March 29, 2006

China to build sporting facilitie as part of rural fitness drive

By Nick Mulvenney

BEIJING (Reuters) - China wants to build a concrete
basketball court and two outdoor table tennis tables in every
village as part of a rural fitness drive.

While 80 percent of Chinese live in the countryside, only
eight percent of the nation's sports facilities are in rural

"Of all the measures to be taken in building the new
socialist countryside, the national fitness project is one that
needs the smallest investment but will produce an instant
effect," Feng Jianzhong, Vice Minister of China's sports
administration, told a news conference on Wednesday.

The investment will come from 90 million yuan ($11.22
million) of central government money supplemented by local
government funds and topped up by entrepreneurs, Feng said.

There would be no financial burden on farmers, he added,
although local laborers would offer their services "on a
voluntary basis."

Feng said the facilities, which he hoped to have in a sixth
of villages by 2011, would provide other benefits to the

"The concrete field is multi-functional and can be used to
stockpile grain and for other entertainments," he said.


China, which will host the Olympic Games in Beijing in
2008, has a huge sports program for elite athletes but Feng
said any talents unearthed by the campaign would be a

"The main purpose of this work is to do solid work for
farmers," he said. "Of course children will develop skills and
we hope to find some future athletes."

The plans form part of the "11th Five-Year Plan for
National Economic and Social Development" adopted by the
National Parliament earlier this month, which focuses on
closing the gap between rural and urban China.

Feng said a 2001 survey of the nation's fitness showed 17.2
percent of men in rural area did not have adequate fitness,
compared with 11.6 percent of laborers in urban areas.

For women, the gap was even greater, with 21.2 percent not
fit enough, compared with just 8.4 percent of their urban

Asked whether he thought the money might be better spent on
education and medical care, Feng said: "This is not something
we cooked up at home. We have been to the farmers and asked
what they need.

"I think physical health is a top priority. Man is the most
precious thing and the most precious thing for man is health.

"Only by having a strong and healthy body can you enjoy the
other things in life. Someone lying on a hospital bed cannot
enjoy any of the wonderful things of life."