It is easy to watch or play almost any sport you can think of in Beijing, or indeed any major city in China. Speaking for myself, I have been practicing Krav Maga (read: taking beatings), an Israeli martial art, for over a year now. Taught both in Chinese and English, it also serves as a free Chinese lesson, and was easy to find and join.
China has been undergoing a sporting ‘revolution’ since the build-up to the 2008 Beijing Olympics: China is a very patriotic country and its people were immensely proud when they topped the gold medal count in their home Olympics. Since then, the number of sporting facilities open to the (increasingly wealthy) public has been growing rapidly, and Beijing will also host the 2022 Winter Olympics. Some of these events will be held in Shijingshan (Aihua’s local area in Beijing), and you can already see the construction sites and marketing for this. There are also former Olympic sites from the 2008 games in the local area, many of which have been repurposed into parks and gyms.
Some of the most popular sports in Beijing are football, basketball, ping pong and badminton. Football is popular in schools and China’s premier football league, the Chinese Super League, is big business (you might have heard about Chinese football clubs buying up famous Western footballers). Basketball courts are everywhere, as are ping pong and badminton facilities. Some of these are outside and free to use. One reason basketball is so popular is because of Yao Ming, a retired Chinese basketball player who was vey successful in the NBA. You can find his face on advertisements everywhere in Beijing. Martial arts are perhaps less popular to practice than you might think, but culturally remain extremely important. If you head to the park early in the morning, you can still see groups of people practicing Tai Chi, and putting your (or at least my) flexibility to shame.
Watching sports in Beijing is also very easy – and cheap. You can watch any of the most popular sports in person and, because of the great public transport system in Beijing, this is straightforward. Beijing’s Guoan football club are about 50 minutes away by the subway, and a season ticket is very cheap. Large basketball stadiums are everywhere, including a new one only a few subway stations away. Of course, international teams tour here during their pre-season, so you can watch many of your favourite teams from home that way too. If motorsport is your thing, some teachers have also taken the bullet train down to Shanghai for the annual Formula 1 race there.
In China, just like the West, you can also watch any sport you like online (normally for free). China’s national broadcaster, CCTV, has two dedicated sports channels which cover many of the major sporting events, and can be watched on your TV or online. There are also ‘streaming’ websites that provide links for different events, and pay-per-view streaming sites that allow you to stream games at a very low cost. These are often bundled in with your basic subscription for things like movies and TV shows; think of Netflix with sports.
Yao Ming (that famous basketball player) said: “No matter whether you are new or an old team member, you need time to adjust to one another.” Every newcomer needs some time to adjust to Beijing, of course, but after that initial settling-in period you’ll find everything you want or need, from ping pong to Papa John’s. Welcome to Beijing!