Claudia Klingelhöfer
Author:
Claudia Klingelhöfer (editor in chief)

Sports in China: running, badminton, table tennis, basketball and soccer

These are the most popular sports in China

Sports are becoming more and more popular in China. Table tennis, badminton, basketball are typical sports for the country. But one sport beats them all.

Soccer may be gaining ground in China, but in contrast to Germany, it’s still far from the most popular sport.
Soccer may be gaining ground in China, but in contrast to Germany, it’s still far from the most popular sport.

Sports in China are popular and becoming more and more popular. Especially the growing middle class has time for running, fitness, table tennis, basketball, but also for winter sports and soccer.

In addition to the massive state funding for top-level sports, there are many sports trends that recreational athletes in China are discovering for themselves. We present the most popular sports in China here.

Running is trend sport

Running is now the most important sport for Chinese recreational athletes. 44 percent of the sporting Chinese count running among their main sports.

"In 2016, there were over one million marathon runners in China," says China expert Martin Kössler. Among other things, he accompanies sports and outdoor companies as they enter the Chinese market.

Der Jilin-Marathon Ende Juni 2017 zog über 30.000 Läufer an.
Der Jilin-Marathon Ende Juni 2017 zog über 30.000 Läufer an.

Last year, there were also more than 100 marathons in China. From the point of view of sports companies, runners in China are even a particularly interesting target group, says Kössler. Runners are much younger than in Europe, and they spend more money on their hobby. For example, the majority of running Chinese are between 36 and 45 years old, followed proportionately by 25- to 35-year-olds.

Another interesting aspect is that running is making fitness studios more popular again. Studios specializing in the needs of runners are springing up in major cities. Chinese recreational athletes are happy to spend money on running shoes, clothing and accessories.

Chinese play badminton and table tennis

The two backstroke sports have been among the most popular sports in China for years. International professional sports are dominated by Chinese in both table tennis and badminton.

The best badminton player of all time, two-time Olympic and five-time world champion Lin Dan, is one of the biggest sports idols ever in China and famous throughout Asia. ESPN ranks him among the 100 most famous athletes in the world.

The sports of badminton and table tennis are also very popular in China in the leisure sector. Over a third of Chinese who play sports also play badminton, and over a fifth like to pick up a table tennis bat.

Badminton-Ass Lin Dan ist in China eine Sport-Ikone.
Badminton-Ass Lin Dan ist in China eine Sport-Ikone.

Very popular: basketball and soccer

Even though everything Western was banned, basketball was a popular sport in China during the Cultural Revolution (1966 to 1976) and that popularity continues today. China is the largest international market for the American professional basketball league NBA. Over 18 percent of Chinese athletes play basketball.

But it is possible that soccer will overtake basketball. Already, the percentage of Chinese athletes who also play soccer is 12 percent. The Chinese leadership has proclaimed the ambitious goal of winning the World Cup title in 2050.

"By 2025, there should be 50,000 soccer academies in China," says Martin Kössler, "These dimensions naturally offer enormous potential for Western companies."

Leagues for amateurs are to be created and countless soccer fields built throughout China. At present, China is still a soccer dwarf, ranking 82nd in the FIFA world rankings between Benin and Belarus.

Der brasilianische Fußballer Hulk ist einer der Superstars, die ihren Weg in die Chinese Super League gefunden haben.
Der brasilianische Fußballer Hulk ist einer der Superstars, die ihren Weg in die Chinese Super League gefunden haben.

This is another reason why the country is bringing in a lot of expertise from abroad. The Chinese Super League is investing heavily: According to FIFA data, transfer spending by the Chinese professional league in 2016 was 450 million euros.

Foreign professionals can sweeten their career evening here. Among the most famous soccer players who have agreed to a transfer to China are, for example, the Argentine Carlos Tevez, the Brazilian Hulk or Jackson Martinez. The Colombian moved from Atletico Madrid to Guangzhou Evergrande in 2016 for 42 million.

Winter sports in China growing

The 2022 Winter Olympics will be held in Beijing. That, of course, is a commitment for the country. "Many investors are getting into the winter sports business," says China expert Kössler.

The world's largest beginner market is developing here, and because there is a long value chain in the ski and winter sports business, Kössler says a great many companies will benefit from the growing winter sports market in China. In addition, the ski resorts have a high demand for skilled workers from a wide variety of fields.



In 2016, almost 650 ski resorts existed in China. "By way of qualification, it must of course be said that these are not comparable with areas in Europe," says Kössler. For example, three-quarters of the ski resorts have an altitude difference of no more than 100 meters.

But many Chinese are trying out skiing, and visitors to the areas have been increasing significantly for years. For example, the number of visitors to ski resorts nearly tripled from 2009 to 2016, from 5.5 million to 15.1 million.

With almost 1.4 billion Chinese, the potential has probably not yet been exhausted.

Winter Sports are Growing in China

The 2022 Olympic Winter Games will be hosted in Beijing. Of course, this is a commitment for the country. “Many investors are getting in on the winter sports business,” says the China expert Kössler.

The largest beginners’ market in the world is evolving here, and because the supply chain in the skiing and winter sports business is quite long, Kössler says, several companies will benefit from the growing winter sports market in China. Skiing regions will also have a need for skilled employees from all kinds of sectors.

Nearly 650 ski resorts existed in China in 2016. “Naturally it has to be said that these aren’t comparable with the regions in Europe,” says Kössler. Three quarters of the ski regions have an altitude difference of no more than 100 meters.

But many Chinese are giving skiing a try, and visitor numbers to these regions have been climbing substantially for years. The number of visitors to the ski regions nearly tripled from 2009 to 2016, from 5.5. to 15.1 million.

At nearly 1.4 billion Chinese, this potential still has yet to be exhausted.

eSports on the rise

Obviously eSports is also very popular in China. Although it's still discussed very intensely whether eSports is an actual sport, the eSports market is growing and growing. Globally as well as in China. In 2020 the eSports market in China exceeded 20 billion USD. Games like League of Legends as well as DOTA are very popular among the population.

What are the national sports in  China?

Traditional sports include wushu, Taijiquan, qigong, Chinese chess, round-up checkers (go) and others. Taijiquan is one of the types of Chinese traditional sport. It includes elements of strengthening physical health, training willpower and regulating  internal energy "qi".

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Claudia Klingelhöfer
Author:
Claudia Klingelhöfer (editor in chief)