Where is pro cycling and cycling culture in China going? For most of the year, this question circles in a small fishbowl of new media (like this blog). However, the recent Tour of Beijing has helped the discussion spill over into much larger ponds, including that of China’s state-owned Xinhua News Agency.
The below article is a translation of a Xinhua News Agency October 14 opinion piece that was disseminated across multiple provincial media outlets in China. Although the heading suggests an opinion piece on how cycling can be “greener”, the article grows in scope to highlight a range of areas related to the development of pro cycling events and culture in China. [Note: big thanks to Cycling iQ's good friend Jing Wen for translating the article.]
CYCLING EVENTS IN CHINA SHOULD BE DEVELOPED GREEN; TOO FREQUENT TOURS CAUSES RESOURCE WASTE
Cycling has gradually become more and more popular in China, due to its characteristics of being low-carbon and environmentally friendly, which fits the concept of healthy living in modern society. At the same time, road cycling events in China have entered into a golden age of development. In recent years, large-scale cycling events have grown rapidly; however, should they be ‘green’ developed?
Green development means carrying out the actual efforts of energy-saving and emission-reduction, promoting low-carbon economics. Cycling is known as green; hence, cycling events should also be green developed.
‘Tours’ are hosted in everywhere
According to incomplete statistics, there are nearly 100 cycling tours in China: Tour of Beijing, Tour of Qinghai Lake, Tour of Hainan, Tour of Taihu Lake, Tour of Chongming Island, Tour of South China Sea, Tour of China, etc. There are truly too many ‘Tour’ events.
It is undeniable that hosting professional road cycling events has benefits in promoting cycling as a sport, green travel and for the image of the host city. However, more challenges and pressure has also been put on host cities.
Having been inspired by the Tour de France, most road cycling tours see it as their goal. However, due to the low level of event and attending cyclists; lack of host experience and attention from the society; and the local cycling cultural environment, their goal seems out of reach.
Too frequent tours cause waste of resources
In order to host a successful event, host cities put great effort and expense into event publicity and organizing. But compared to the small influence, too-frequent events have caused a waste of resources; like traffic control, sponsorship, audiences and broadcasting.
It is argued by Professor Haoqin from Chengdu Sports Academy that the government is behind every event. Sports events have become a promoter of city development, which makes local governments put great passion on them. However, commercialized operation has been ignored in order to obtain so called political achievements.
Wang Qi, who is working in the sports industry also suggested “None of these cycling tours is driven by the sports market; they are all government image projects. And because of the huge number of events, it barely helps the promotion of the host city’s image. Also the lack of innovation of the events, which are simply copies of the Tour de France, has caused little effect. Hence, these events shouldn’t be too frequent.”
The Tour of Beijing, which has been called the ‘Asian Tour de France’, is actually not comparable to the Tour de France. One staff from the organization committee shared with us that the revenue of the Tour de France is more than USD100m, while the market profit model of Tour of Beijing is still at exploration stage.
Take the Tour of China as another example; the route of it is only a small ‘earthworm’ on the map of China. Wang Qi suggested that an overall plan should be made for all the tour events in China; rather than host them separately and result in unsuccessful small events.
It is generally agreed that hosting events is a critical way to promote cycling as a sport. It is not exactly the truth. Mr Tian Junrong, who is the former vice president of the China Cycling and Fencing Association, suggested that hosting events is only the first step of professional cycling development. After taking the first step, more professional cycling teams should be set up and professional leagues should be founded. So far, these two steps have barely been taken in China.
Combine elite events and nationwide fitness
So far, hosted cycling events are more like a domain for foreign professional cyclists. It is difficult to actually raise the common people’s understanding of cycling and the competitive level of Chinese cyclists. But Chinese cycling can’t be well developed until we have more and more people who love cycling. To better achieve that, further resources and integration of cycling events is needed, and leading events need to be created. At the same time, instead of blind comparisons amongst different local governments, localization of individual events should be done to promote cycling on a broader level.
The Tour of Beijing, which is at the same [UCI WorldTour - CiQ] level as the Tour de France, has only been hosted for two years. But its high starting point and level have put it on the top. Tour of Qinghai Lake, which is as well known as its beautiful view, has already been running for more than a decade. These two events both have the potential to be leading events.
Haoqin suggested a commercialized market system of the sports industry should be build up first, in order to create leading events. It will put sports events into the market, while the governments only provide supporting services. Leading events will then be created by the selection of the market.
He also suggests that the implementation of a commercialized market still needs a long time. So far, it is impossible to operate the events without the support of governments. ‘China Bicycle’ (QiXingFengShang), which is a magazine for cycling fans, explained the reason for that on its official Weibo account: the reason that events still rely on government is lack of event companies which have both ability and money. That’s why government should take the lead and create events, which will draw big enterprises in and push the marketing process.
Driven by leading events, hosting cities should organize more small-scale cycling events which are easy to take part in for common people and requires less investment. This will mean cycling events have different classifications and levels, which will promote nationwide fitness and also grassroots cycling development in China.
The cycling activities hosted by YanQing County of Beijing include not only road cycling races and recreational riding, but also mountain bike races and fun activities. They are suitable for all age group people to attend. Yanjing, who is in the older cultural team of the county, did the drum performance for cyclists during Tour of Beijing. She has already become a cycling fan due to the activities hosted by the county. She rides her bike every weekend with her friends, though she is already 52 years old. The most expensive of her bikes costs CNY16000 (USD2,550).
Libin, who is 37 years old, rode from the city to the Great Wall to watch the Tour of Beijing. He said he rides his bike every day for exercise. Since he began to cycling three years ago, his weight has dropped from 95 to 65 kilograms. He said, “I enjoyed very much watching the cyclists competing in Tour of Beijing. I will ride again to watch the race next year, if possible”.
The president of UCC, a two-year sponsor of Tour of Beijing, has high hopes of the cycling development promoted by Tour of Beijing. Since his company started business in mainland China in 2007, there are already 200-300 shops and bicycle sales have grown from 2,000 to 100,000 units. He is confident of a bright future.
The interactions of Tour of Beijing, cycling fans and bicycle companies have become better, which is a beneficial attempt at cycling event green development.