INCHEON, South Korea (AFP) – China, Asia’s sporting superpower, are agonising over their failure to triumph in football, basketball or volleyball – what they call the “three big ball sports” – at the Asian Games.
China won 151 gold medals at the two-week Games in South Korea, but no titles in football and basketball, the world’s most popular sports.
China’s women lost the volleyball final for the first time since 1998 when they were beaten by South Korea. Their men failed to get a medal for the second straight games.
The defeats hurt and answers have been demanded. China’s delegation chief in Incheon Liu Peng said before the Games started that “it’s an uphill battle for our three ‘big ball’ teams”, which he acknowledged carry “special significance.”
Football is the most important sport in China, even though they have only once qualified for the World Cup and have in recent years been hit by match-fixing scandals involving players, referees and officials.
China’s Football Association president Cai Zhenhua said his country’s football had hit rock bottom after the national under-23 side lost 2-0 to Thailand in the Asian Games quarter finals. They also lost to Vietnam in the group stage.
“Chinese football has hit a new low,” he told state media. “But we must not feel numb. We must make reforms and try to find the right way to develop Chinese football.
“I am not blaming our coaches. But the level of the coaching staff of the men’s team is lagging far behind the world class,” he added.
“They do not compare with Chinese coaches in other sports,” said Cai.
“In 10 years’ time, I hope we can see our efforts bear some fruit.”
China – the land of Yao Ming – won seven of the last eight men’s basketball golds before the Asian Games.
They were beaten in the quarter finals in Incheon.
They have eye-catching players like 7ft 1in (2.17m) centre Zhou Qi. But China’s head coach Gong Luming said the team lacks experience on the international stage.
“National and international competitions are vastly different,” he said.
China’s women basketball team lost the final 64-70 to South Korea after winning three gold medals in a row.
“We have ourselves to blame,” said China’s centre Liu Dan.
Volleyball is another area where China have been a force in the past.
But China’s women lost the volleyball final for the first time since 1994 when they were beaten by South Korea. Their men failed to get a medal for the second straight games.
The men lost to Japan and South Korea during the competition and the Xinhua state news agency said this was “a mentally heavy blow.”
“Our players did not properly cope with the stress during the games and so failed to play to the best of their capabilities,” China’s coach Xie Guochen said.
He added that there was also a dearth of talent.
China’s women are still in the top six in the world, but their coach, Xu Jiande, said the players had been over-confident.