President to announce opening of 14th National Games in capital of Shaanxi
President Xi Jinping has championed China's efforts to turn the country into a sports powerhouse, a goal he described as part of the Chinese dream of national rejuvenation.
Xi, a keen sports fan, was personally involved in the country's 2015 bid for the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics. He also has encouraged hundreds of millions of Chinese to actively participate in fitness-for-all programs, which became a national strategy in 2014 for coordinating efforts to improve people's health and promote the development of competitive sports.
Sports are an important indicator of social development and human progress, and a significant manifestation of overall national strength and the cultural advancement of a society, the president has said.
Xi will attend the opening ceremony on Wednesday of the 14th National Games and will announce the start of the event, which will run through Sept 27 in Xi'an, the capital of Shaanxi province. The event, to be held in the hometown of the Terracotta Warriors, is triggering a boom in the public's interest in sports and fitness.
Xi has a wide range of sports interests, including soccer, volleyball and swimming. In February 2014, he attended the opening ceremony of the Sochi Winter Olympics in Russia. During that visit, he told Rossiya TV, a state-owned Russian television channel, that he loves winter sports. "I like watching ice hockey games, speed skating, figure skating and freestyle skiing. Hockey is my favorite."
Xi's passion for sports has brought him and the public much closer and has served him well in furthering his image as a man of the people in China.
Guan Zhihao, a student of Zhongguancun No 2 Primary School in Beijing who has been playing ice hockey for nearly seven years, said he and his playmates were lucky to meet Xi in February 2017 at the Wukesong Ice Sports Center in the Chinese capital because of the sport.
"Grandpa Xi told us a story that impressed me so much," the 12-year-old boy said. "I learned that when he was a child, Grandpa Xi liked skating a lot. He really wanted to own a pair of speed skates, but his family could only afford one pair. He knew his younger brother liked ice hockey, so he gave the opportunity of buying a pair of skates to his brother."
"Grandpa Xi said that what we have today is far better than before, so we should cherish the opportunity to practice hard," the boy added. "I feel really lucky that I have the opportunity to play ice hockey. I'm going to keep this up, and I want to participate in the Winter Olympics when I grow up."
As a firm promoter of national fitness and sports development, Xi has advocated sports as an important means for improving people's health, meeting people's aspirations for a better life and facilitating all-around human development.
China will work to promote sports among children, improve competitive sports and continue to push forward fitness-for-all programs in a bid to build itself into a stronger sporting nation, Xi said during a meeting in Sochi in 2014 with Thomas Bach, president of the International Olympic Committee.
"President Xi Jinping has a clear vision about the important role of sport in society and has a clear vision about the importance of sport for the education of young people," Bach said in a recent interview with Xinhua News Agency.
Under Xi's leadership, China's sports have made great strides over the past years. At the Tokyo Olympics, China ranked second in the medal count with 38 gold, 32 silver and 18 bronze medals, just behind the United States.
The country is also advancing preparation work for the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics and Paralympics, which will be held in February. Xi has made several visits to the sports venues to inspect the preparatory work in a bid to ensure that China will present to the world fantastic, extraordinary and excellent Winter Olympic Games.
On the international stage, Xi has often used diplomatic occasions to promote friendship and cooperation between China and other countries and international organizations through sports.
In February 2012, he wrapped up his visit to the US by attending a National Basketball Association game at Staples Center in Los Angeles.
In June 2018, Xi and Russian President Vladimir Putin jointly watched a friendly China-Russia youth ice hockey game in Tianjin, China, and they exchanged team uniforms and took a group photo with the players in the game. He said that China will continue to expand sports exchanges with Russia, especially in ice hockey, to strengthen bilateral ties.
In a telephone conversation with Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi on Sept 7, Xi called on both countries to firmly support each other in respectively hosting the Beijing Winter Olympics in 2022 and the Milan Winter Olympics in 2026, and to strengthen their partnership in ice and snow sports and related industries.