China: More Than Enough Sports Facilities?

With its main pool of 18,000 seats, the new Shanghai Oriental Sports Center, which hosted the 2011 World Aquatics Championships, is certainly impressive but nevertheless raises a question: what will it become after the sporting event is finished?

The brand new installation is not the only one generating this concern in China. The country has a variety of sports venues that are currently underutilized.

In Beijing, the famous Bird’s Nest, built to host the athletics events and the opening / closing ceremonies of the Olympics in 2008, for example, is not in use today.

Similarly, in Shanghai, other sports facilities underutilized include: Qi Zhong Stadium, a structure with a retractable roof, only hosted a single ATP tennis tournament in 2009, and the Shanghai International Circuit is well empty outside the Grand Prix it hosts annually.

In the case of infrastructure of World Aquatics Championships, officials argue that they find good use by opening it to the public soon.

The only sporting event scheduled at these facilities after the World Swimming Championships is the world short track (speed skating), announced for next year, when the basin has to be provisionally modified.

To explain this madness of constructive, several reasons can be given.

Kerry Brown, a former diplomat based in London and China expert, points out the suspicions of corruption related to such large-scale real estate projects. “There is a systemic problem with officials earning several thousand dollars a month and decide to build projects worth billions. The situation is really disastrous.”

In 2006, the Formula 1 circuit in Shanghai was at the center of a corruption scandal that forced several leaders to resign.

Brown also criticized the lack of long-term vision in creating the sports venues. “There may be something very much to do with these structures of Olympics, but for now, they seem useless and ghostly,” said the former diplomat.