By Jake Liddle

On June 23, China’s State Council approved the new 2016-2020 National Fitness Plan, which sets ambitious targets to improve national fitness and increase sports participation. It also seeks to encourage more people to incorporate regular physical activities into their weekly routines. In addition, the plan factors in the rapidly increasing elderly population, aiming to improve fitness facilities in retirement communities and providing specialist guidance regarding fitness.

While acting in the interest of national health, the National Fitness Plan will boost China’s sports and fitness industries. The plan makes provisions for a sports facility network that will be accessible to urban and rural residents.

The 2016-2020 National Fitness Plan creates great potential for foreign investment. This is particularly true with football, where foreign input is highly valued in China. However, sport is only one side of the coin: fitness also provides a large opportunity. Since the Fitness Plan aims to create more fitness facilities and infrastructure, demand for gyms and other such services will undoubtedly increase in the coming years.

Opportunities in China’s Sports Industry

To increase the amount of football grounds, the government is requiring construction plans in urban and rural areas to include football fields.  It also encourages football training and coaching at all levels of educational institutions, and seeks to diversify football teams to make the sport widely accessible. The plan’s emphasis on football could hail from the state backed policy to increase the sport’s popularity and make China a leading force in football by 2050.

Consequently, there has been a recent surge of Chinese investors buying stakes or purchasing football teams and broadcasters, especially in Europe, and Chinese football clubs signing overseas football players. Early this year, Guangzhou Evergrande Taobao Football Club signed Colombian forward Jackson Martinez RMB 300 million (€42 million), a record in Asia. Chinese entities have also recently purchased Aston Villa, and bought controlling stakes of Manchester City and Inter Milan, with AC Milan still in talks.

The standard of Chinese footballdeveloped steadily in the last decade, and players are drawn to China by the lucrative deals that clubs and the state offer. For example, former England manager Sven-Goren Eriksson is now head coach of Shanghai SIPG. These investments and efforts to popularize the sport will help improve China’s football infrastructure, and could also support a successful bid for China to host the 2026 World Cup.

Winter Sports

The plan also aims to promote winter sports on a large scale, utilizing the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics winning bid as the driving force. China is battling numerous obstacles for the Winter Olympics, such as polluted air and lack of water needed to make snow and ice, but nevertheless beat Kazakhstan’s capital Almaty to host the games.

Projects for constructing new winter sport facilities and improving existing facilities will begin as the government hopes to establish figure skating, ice hockey, skiing, and other winter sports as leisure and fitness activities.The government’s goal is to have 300 million people participating in a winter sport by 2020.

The rationale for promoting  winter sports is the same as football: stimulating interest for a sport will ultimately win medals in international competitions. Efforts mapped out by the state before the 2016-2020 National Fitness Plan for winter sports not only pledged to construct numerous new snow resorts, skating rinks, and winter sports themed schools, but also mapped out generating millions of followers, and teaching primary and middle school students the etiquette for watching matches in time for the Olympic games.


About the Author
This article originally appeared on Asia Briefing Ltd., a subsidiary of Dezan Shira & Associates. Dezan Shira is a specialist foreign direct investment practice, providing corporate establishment, business advisory, tax advisory and compliance, accounting, payroll, due diligence and financial review services to multinationals investing in China, Hong Kong, India, Vietnam, Singapore and the rest of ASEAN. For further information, please email [email protected] or visit

Posted by Jake Liddle