Commentary: Don’t drop the ball on China’s volleyball fever

Aug.23,2016

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China's players pose for photos after the awarding ceremony for the women's final of volleyball at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games in Brazil, on Aug. 20, 2016. (Yue Yuewei/Xinhua)

In their gold medal-winning match against Serbia at the Rio Olympics, China’s women’s volleyball team commanded 70 percent of the viewing audience, according to ratings for China Central Television.

But outside the Olympic arena, volleyball still ranks well below basketball, football, or table tennis in interest among China’s young sports people.

A similar phenomenon occurs online.

Searches for the Chinese word "nvpai" – meaning women’s volleyball – on the Sina Weibo social network spiked on Tuesday afternoon at more than 158 million results, while the official Weibo account of China’s women’s volleyball racked up 160,000 followers.

The comments on all media heaped praise on the team's skills and tactics, their determined spirit, and the outstanding coaching ability of Lang Ping, who was the banner of the squad when it "swept" the world in the 1980s.

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China's head coach Lang Ping gestures after the women's gold medal match of volleyball against Serbia at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games in Brazil, on Aug. 20, 2016.  (Liu Dawei/Xinhua)

The compliments are not exaggerated for the team that has regained the summit for the first time since the 2004 Athens Olympics.

But is this just a case of short-lived Olympic fever?

China's Basketball Association reportedly tripled ticket prices three times during the finals last season, but volleyball tickets were easy to come by.

China’s broadcasters routinely favor a football or basketball match if the schedules ever go head to head against volleyball. 

Last year, volleyball administrators seemed to be upping their game with the Chinese Super League (CSL) broadcasting rights selling for 8 billion yuan (1.25 billion US dollars).

In March this year, the national volleyball administration promised to speed up reforms, including extending the duration of the league season from the current 120 days and approving free transfers among professional players.

The measures appear to be attracting more fans.

Wang Dengfeng, director of the Department of Physical, Health and Arts Education of the Ministry of Education, told China Features that volleyball would be promoted more strongly in schools.

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China's players celebrate after the women's gold medal match of Volleyball against Serbia at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games in Brazil, on Aug. 20, 2016.  (Sheng Bohan/Xinhua)

In an interview with Xinhua after winning the Olympic gold, Lang Ping supported measures to encourage more children on to the volleyball courts.

"By participating in team sports, children can expect to live positive lives and maintain their physical and psychological health," Lang said. "Playing for the national team is not the only goal in sport."

We should heed the words of a champion coach and remember there is more to sport than cheering from the sidelines. 

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Ding Xia (front, L) and Yan Ni pose for photos after the awarding ceremony for the women's final of volleyball at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games in Brazil, on Aug. 20, 2016. (Yue Yuewei/Xinhua)

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