The China Sports Column is a SupChina weekly feature.
2019 has been a year to remember in China sports, though perhaps not always for the right reasons.
It was a year defined by the hurting of feelings of Chinese people, from the comments of Daryl Morey and Mesut Ozil to the actions of the South Korea men’s U18 soccer team (a player putting his foot on the Panda Cup trophy) and Australian swimmer Mack Horton (protesting Sun Yang’s alleged drug usage).
Although as far as hurt feelings go, none of those foreigners could compare to what China’s own teams would inflict.
Shambolic is the only word to describe the efforts of the men’s basketball and soccer teams, who were in competition all year to see who was worse.
The three-week FIBA Basketball World Cup tournament, which China hosted, saw the home team drawn into an easy group alongside Poland, Venezuela, and the Ivory Coast.
Things began with a 70-55 win over Ivory Coast, but it all came crashing down after that, as the team lost to Poland in overtime before being thrashed in a do-or-die game against Venezuela.
That failure means China lost out on automatic qualification for the Olympics and now run the risk of not appearing in Japan next year.
Meanwhile, Chinese soccer began the year with a little hope, with the men’s team appearing in the quarterfinals of the AFC Asian Cup in January.
But a poor 3-0 loss to Iran in that quarterfinal would begin a year of decline for the national team. That Iran loss spelled the end of the first stint of Marcello Lippi as the team’s manager, as the veteran Italian coach resigned.
But his replacement, protégé Fabio Cannavaro, would last for only two ugly losses before Lippi came back to take over — for more money.
Lippi’s return would also see the CFA take a new path to improving the national team: naturalized players.
Unfortunately, the national team continued to flounder during its World Cup qualifying campaign. A 2-1 loss to Syria in November resulted in Lippi’s second resignation of the year.
On the women’s side, the team went to France for the FIFA Women’s World Cup and went out in the group stage after a pedestrian 2-0 loss to Italy.
While the early exit was a disappointment, the team was done no favors by the Chinese Football Association, which set up unrealistic expectations that the team was one of the tournament’s four best.
The saga of Sun Yang and other news
China’s greatest swimmer ever, Sun Yang, got himself into hot water after it emerged that he had smashed a blood vial during a doping test.
Amazingly, the swimmer escaped punishment from FINA, the world swimming governing body, and was allowed to compete in the World Swimming Championships.
In the end, there were some very bright moments from the past year.
- Lǐ Nà 李娜 was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame, the first Asian player to earn that honor.
- Li Na’s legacy is taking hold in the current crop of young Chinese stars, led by 24-year-old Wáng Yǎfán 王雅繁, who won her first WTA title in Mexico back in March.
- In ping-pong, Team China managed to claim all the major men’s and women’s titles, putting fears of a rising Japan on hold. The year also saw Fán Zhèndōng 樊振东 announce himself as the successor to Mǎ Lóng 马龙, the Chinese face of table tennis for the past few years.
- China also did a great job of hosting the World Military Games in Wuhan. Only Russia offered any resistance in the multisport event.
- And of course, Jeremy Lin is now playing in Beijing.
The China Sports Column runs every week on SupChina.