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Shanghai is full speed ahead

City's reputation as an elite global sporting hub continues go from strength to strength

By HE QI in Shanghai | China Daily | Updated: 2024-04-03 09:52
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The recent Shanghai Sailing Open on Dishui Lake was the latest high-level international sports competition to benefit from the city's globally renowned hosting capabilities. CHINA DAILY

After decades of experience in the field, Shanghai is cementing its reputation as a global leader in hosting top-level, professional sports events.

Last month's Shanghai Sailing Open, held from March 26-31 on Dishui Lake, exemplified the city's world-renowned excellence, attracting over 300 competitors, including Marcin Rudawski, a six-time world champion of Poland, Weka Bhanubandh of Thailand, a gold medalist at the Hangzhou Asian Games, and China's former Olympic champion Xu Lijia.

Competing in ILCA6 sailboats and J80 yachts, sailors heaped praise on the competition environment and overall atmosphere of the event.

"I really enjoyed our experience not only in the races and performances on the Bund, but also off the water. We had a great time in the sailing event village and the concert hall, as well as lots of gathering together," said Xu, who finished second in the J80 competition.

"During the event, I met many old friends because they were either my teammates or were involved in the competition. I hope all the sailors enjoyed this event as much as I did," she added.

Santiago Villax Sampaio of Portugal, the runner-up in the ILCA6 competition, was equally impressed, saying: "Before coming to Shanghai, I thought I would sail on an artificial lake surrounded by skyscrapers and the sailing conditions would not be very good. However, the wind conditions were much better than I expected. The lake was big enough and the conditions were good.

"The event was very well organized. I really appreciate everyone involved. If this event keeps happening, I would be happy to keep coming back and do my best to promote this competition in Europe."

Jon Emmett, the former coach of the Chinese sailing team, recalled that there were very few small sailboats at Dishui Lake 12 years ago, but now it hosts many yacht clubs with locals flocking to watch the races.

Shanghai's commitment to developing its sports scene has been key to this success.

In 2015, the Shanghai municipal government issued a plan to accelerate the development of its sports industry, including a proposal to develop the city into a world-renowned sports hub within 10 years.

According to the 2023 Shanghai Sports Event Influence Assessment Report, Shanghai held 118 major sports events last year, with 36 of those international-level events, including the ATP 1000 Shanghai Masters, the Shanghai Marathon, and the Shanghai Half Marathon, which were rated as the city's most influential sports events last year.

The report, which was co-published by the Shanghai Administration of Sports, Shanghai University of Sport, and Shanghai Oriental Sports Evaluation and Consultation Center, added that the 118 events attracted 1.29 million on-site spectators and nearly 190,000 participants, generating over 3.71 billion yuan ($516 million) in consumption and leading to a direct economic injection of nearly 5 billion yuan and creating 32,268 job opportunities.

This year, besides the recent Shanghai Sailing Open and various district-organized half marathon events, the city will continue to stage sports competitions such as the Shanghai Half Marathon, the Formula 1 Chinese Grand Prix, the ABB FIA Formula E World Championship, and the Olympic Qualifier Series.

"The city plans to host nearly 175 domestic and international tournaments in 2024," says Xu Bin, director of the Shanghai Sports Bureau. "Behind this assessment, is the continuous exploration and practice of the sports development in the city."

The Shanghai Half Marathon is among the most high-profile sports events the world-famous metropolis has to offer. CHINA DAILY

Built to last

Luo Wenhua, deputy director general of the Shanghai Administration of Sports, said that the success of sports development in Shanghai is closely related to a policy of top-level construction.

Aiming to provide an exceptional competition environment, the city has devised a series of innovative measures for sports event management, such as the Shanghai Sports Event System Construction Plan (2021-2025).

"In view of the characteristics of Shanghai events, the pattern of global sports events, and the relevant practices at home and abroad, we established a system to identify and evaluate all sports events held in Shanghai every year, and implement support policies," Luo said.

"So far, a closed loop of competition supervision and service has been formed, including pre-competition identification, in-competition evaluation, and post-competition support," he added.

F1 Shanghai Grand Prix is among the most high-profile sports events the world-famous metropolis has to offer. CHINA DAILY

In addition to top-level international competitions, top-tier home teams, and professional leagues, brand events are staged year-round to highlight the city's characteristics, Luo explained.

"The Shanghai Marathon, as the first city-owned brand event with global influence, was founded in 1996 and successfully staged for 26 editions. Many world-leading individual events have settled in Shanghai over the past two decades, but it was a pity that there was no other standout domestic brand event besides the Shanghai Marathon," Luo said.

"Taking advantage of hosting of the World Figure Skating Championships in Shanghai and with the support of the International Skating Union (ISU), the Shanghai Trophy was founded.

"As the only grand prix in the world that integrates figure skating, short-track speed skating, and synchronized skating, it was the first ISU event to be named after a city."

Since then, Shanghai has continued to cultivate leading events that promote the city's landscape, such as the Head of Shanghai River Regatta, which was launched on Suzhou Creek in 2021, the Shanghai Cup Chess Master Open, the Shanghai Sailing Open, the marathon series competition, as well as the city's cycling race that is scheduled to launch in September.

Moreover, the Shanghai Half Marathon was awarded Gold Label Road Race status by World Athletics. Along with Valencia in Spain, Shanghai is now just the second city in the world to boast both a Gold Label Road Race and a Platinum Label Road Race — the Shanghai Marathon.

In addition, districts, associations, and enterprises are actively establishing various competitions, such as the Suzhou Creek Half Marathon, a women's half marathon, and other water sports and cycling events.

"These events held in open urban spaces have quietly integrated into the daily lives of citizens. They are not only high-level events, but also like carnivals, creating a more open, inclusive, and shared environment for the public," Luo said.

ATP Shanghai Masters is among the most high-profile sports events the world-famous metropolis has to offer. CHINA DAILY

Money spinner

Luo stresses that linking sports with culture, commerce, tourism, and exhibitions is another feature of the city's sports environment, helping to maximize the economic benefits.

"The Head of Shanghai River Regatta is a model for linkups like this. It was held on the opening day of the Shanghai Tourism Festival, and a series of related events were organized around the combination of Suzhou Creek and the regatta, using the event as a way to connect urban landmarks, tourist attractions and key business entities," Luo said.

Foreign runners accounted for 12 percent of the 2023 Shanghai Marathon field, with 10,000 domestic runners coming from cities outside Shanghai, generating 701 million yuan in revenue.

The ATP 1000 Shanghai Masters has continuously upgraded its schedule, infrastructure, and prize pool, attracting nearly 190,000 spectators in 2023. The event generated an output effect of 3.972 billion yuan and profits of 1.396 billion yuan across catering, accommodation, transportation, shopping, and entertainment.

Xu said the city will also continue efforts to organize sports events and create the atmosphere of a sports hub.

She added that preparing for the Olympic Qualifier Series (OQS), which is scheduled to take place at the Huangpu Riverside venue from May 16-19, is one of the most important tasks for Shanghai this year.

Featuring BMX freestyle, skateboarding, breaking, and sport climbing, the OQS offers athletes the chance to book a spot at this summer's Paris Olympics, with the Hungarian capital Budapest hosting the second stop in June.

With the venues specially redesigned for the OQS event, organizers are keen to strike a balance between generating a festival atmosphere and meeting the rigorous competition standards of the International Olympic Committee (IOC).

"The Olympic Agenda 2020+5 of the IOC talks about the concept of a sports festival before integrating the elements of the competition. I think this is a very good idea but full of challenges because it is completely new," Luo explained.

He added that spectators can expect to be treated to the very best in urban sports at the OQS event, and that organizers will strive to provide a warm atmosphere of sports, art, music, and culture.

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