Princeton University Library Catalog

WINNING AT ALL COSTS: A Comparative Analysis of China’s Elite Sport System

Chen, Isabella [Browse]
Senior thesis
Danspeckgruber, Wolfgang [Browse]
Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs [Browse]
Class year:
128 pages
Summary note:
The purpose of this thesis is to examine whether the system supporting China’s elite sport is justified via quantitative and qualitative assessments of its economic, social, and political efficiency relative to other major elite sport systems. Here, “justified” means that an elite sport system is economically, socially, and politically efficient relative to other sport systems. For the purposes of this thesis, I focus on the American and Germany sport systems as benchmarks. This thesis first examines how the government structure and core ideologies of China, the United States, and Germany have shaped the development of their respective elite sport systems. Table tennis is used as the key example of an elite sport system and as a case study to provide personal narratives (drawn from personally conducted interviews) and tangible examples of the realities of each country’s elite sport system. After developing a thorough understanding of these three systems, China’s system is compared to those of the United States and Germany on the basis of economic, social, and political costs. Both quantitative and qualitative measures are employed to compare these costs, and to determine whether the current harshness of the Chinese elite sport system is justified. This paper concludes that the relative socio-economic costs and Olympic success of the Chinese system are not commensurate with those of the United States and Germany, and therefore, an adjustment to juguo tizhi—the Chinese concept that necessitates “whole-country support for the elite sport system”—appears necessary. Finally, I can offer several recommendations to the Chinese Sports Ministry to improve the efficiency and reduce the costs of their elite sport system. These recommendations aim to alleviate the economic, social, and political costs of the current elite sport system while likely also improving medalling results: (1) increase funds and focus on mass sport; (2) incorporate educational programs in elite sport schools; (3) encourage provincial teams to recruit players locally and allow more family visits; (4) open the (elite) sports industry to private and foreign investments; and (5) promote physically, mentally, and psychologically healthier training environments.