China, a new sports giant

Posted by Admin on Thursday, 2 September 2004 | Opini

The Jakarta Post , Jakarta | Thu, 09/02/2004 2:54 PM

Sayidiman Suryohadiprojo, Jakarta

The 2004 Athens Olympic Games have shown us all many dramatic events. One that stands out is the rise of China as a new world power in sport. China’s final tally of 32 gold, 17 silver and 14 bronze medals has made it a worthy competitor of the United States which has regularly dominated world sport. China has taken the place of the former Soviet Union, which in its heyday up through the late 1980s offered a stiff challenge to, and often beat, the U.S. in the battle for the supremacy of world sport.

It is important to remember that the Olympic Games today is not only a matter of sport but also an indication of political importance in international competition.

Since the 1936 Berlin Olympic Games sports became intertwined with politics and race. In its ambitions for international supremacy, Nazi Germany under Adolf Hitler made all the necessary preparations and effort to dominate the Games. Hitler was very clear in his statements that Nazi Germany and the Aryan people were the best athletes in the world.

One could imagine how angry Hitler must have been, when he had to watch American Jesse Owens win four gold medals in track and field, defeating the German athletes in the 100-meter and 200-meter sprint, the long jump and the 4×100-meter relay together with the American team. No German athlete could equal Jesse Owens’ achievement of four gold medals.

In his anger, Hitler lost his composure when he had to present the medals in the presentation ceremony for the long jump. He refused to shake hands with Jesse Owens, who defeated a German athlete.

In Asia, the Japanese wanted to emulate Germany’s accomplishments. They succeeded in acquiring the International Olympic Committee’s endorsement to host the 1940 Olympic Games, but because of World War II it was nixed, but Tokyo finally hosted the Games in 1960. The Japanese used the Berlin Olympics to demonstrate that Japan belonged among the top sporting nations. Victory in the marathon contributed greatly to Japanese national pride, irrespective of the fact that gold medalist Kitei Son was actually Korean-born and competed only because his home country was occupied by Japan in 1936.

Since the Berlin Olympic Games, almost every nation sought to achieve top results in sport to be recognized as a leading world nation. To be a world champion in sport strengthened national pride and self respect.

After the 1980 games, it was China’s turn to move up the ranks of world sport. The reforms started by Deng Xiaoping in 1979 went beyond economy, science and technology, to include sport. China wanted to prove that it had become a leading power and no longer a second class nation.

Looking at China’s performance, the question for us in Indonesia is why are we unable to develop our sporting capabilities to at least a level where we can compete with the rest of the world? The best we can do now is third in the 10 nation Southeast Asian Games. We used to dominate those, but that is all in the past. Today it is Thailand that dominates the SEA Games.

With our population of more than 200 million people and enough raw talent, Indonesia should be able to accomplish greater sporting achievements. But here again, it is a matter of leadership and management, assets of which are quite weak in Indonesia. Let us hope that the new president of Indonesia will provide improvement in leadership and management, which also will make greater sports achievements possible.

The writer is a former governor of the National Resilience Institute (Lemhannas).

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