What happens to China's post-career athletes?

Ms Chunmei Yuan

Posted: August 25, 2014

Despite its prowess at the Olympics, China is not yet a world sports power in terms of athletes’ overall development. Retired sports athletes struggle to find jobs after leaving the athletic spotlight due to their lack of education. In recent years, the misery of some retired athletes has aroused great social concern. Many retired athletes, such as former world champion marathon runner Ai Dongmei, the former national weightlifting champion Zou Chunlan, and the former gymnast Zhang Shangwu who won two gold medals for China at the 2001 Summer Universiade in Beijing was forced into early retirement due to a ruptured tendon in his heel in 2002, had a vary hard time hunting for jobs after they retired from their sports career.

Many former athletes inevitably face substantial challenges when they leave the carefree “eden” of the national sports system and enter a society that is full of competition. Without adequate education, many of them lack vocational skills to provide them with sufficient income to live. Although Zou Chunlan ,Ai Dongmei and Zhang Shangwu found a good job after their stories were publicized, it should be noted that among many other retired athletes, who remain inconspicuous from media, such sad thing is repeated every day. According to statistics, there are approximately 50,000 registered professional athletes in China. Each year, at least 3,000 athletes retire from their sports careers, among which, only 10% can be provided with a stable job most other retired athletes will become unemployed.

Despite of this, it might not be fair to say that Chinese sports authorities have failed to take care of these people. For most of the time, sports departments can only find a job for athletes. However, the sports departments did not teach them any basic skills that could help them survive in society. So, the real problem is that Chinese sports departments should teach their athletes “how to fish” instead of merely “giving them fishes,” said Fan Fumin, a professor on life planning at Tsinghua University.

By teaching athletes “how to fish”, it means that before athletes retire, sport departments should guide them to make their own life plans in advance. Athletes should learn the basic skills that will help them to survive in society. To make life plans, athletes should have a clear picture of what they are good at and what their shortcomings are. They should know about themselves and also about society. Only with this knowledge can they get well-prepared for their future life.

Excitingly, China’s State General Administration of Sports has put increasing emphasis on cultivating athletes’ academic ability. It has introduced a regulation to incorporate the athletes’ rights into the social security system to ease the athletes’ re-employment problem after their retirement from professional sports to a certain degree since 2007. Besides, a new major—life planning for athletes—has appeared in some universities. The new major aims to help athletes to better manage their life, the China Sports Daily reported.

It is believed that the roads have twists but prospects are bright!

About Chunmei Yuan

Ms. Chunmei Yuan is a Ph.D. candidate of Public Management from Jiangxi University of Finance and Economics, whose primary research focuses on public sport service and sport economics. She has published several articles in leading China sport journals including the China Sport Science and the Journal of Beijing Sport University.