BEIJING, Sept. 16, 2021 /PRNewswire/ -- The passion for sports in China reached a new height on Wednesday evening as the country's most important multisport event kicked off in Xi'an, capital of northwest China's Shaanxi Province.
"I declare open the 14th National Games of the People's Republic of China," Chinese President Xi Jinping announced at the opening ceremony of the quadrennial Games, dubbed as China's "mini Olympics."
The event comes amid a busy national sporting calendar. At the Tokyo Olympics from July to August, China won 38 golds, 32 silvers and 18 bronzes, equaling its haul of gold medals at London 2012 for the best performance at an overseas Olympics. The country topped the medal tally at the Tokyo Paralympic Games that concluded earlier this month with 207 medals (96 golds, 60 silvers and 51 bronzes).
Moreover, Beijing will host the Winter Olympic Games in next February and become the first city to host both summer and winter Olympics.
Inaugurated in 1959, the National Games is the most prestigious domestic sporting gala in China. Under the theme of "Games for All, Together in Mind and Action," the 14th National Games features a total of 54 sports and 595 events, of which 35 sports and 410 events are for elite athletes, with the remainder mass sports programs.
More than 12,000 athletes representing China's provinces, municipalities and autonomous regions, the Hong Kong and Macao Special Administrative Regions, the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps and specific sporting associations will compete at the Games, which will run through to September 27.
It was the third time that President Xi has attended the opening ceremony of the Games since becoming Chinese president in 2013.
A keen sports fan, he is interested in a variety of sports, including soccer, volleyball and swimming. He has placed sports high on his agenda during his activities inside the country and abroad. He has visited venues for the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics, met with representatives of the Chinese women's volleyball team, attended the opening ceremony of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics, and watched a youth soccer match in Germany.
He has also talked with the world's top sports officials such as International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Thomas Bach, president of the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) Gianni Infantino and president of the International Basketball Federation (FIBA) Horacio Muratore.
"President Xi is a true champion and I want to give him a set of medals because he has a clear vision about the important role of sports in society, and the importance of sports for education for the young people. So in this respect, he is the true Olympic champion for the youth," Bach told reporters when Xi paid a visit to the IOC headquarters in Lausanne, Switzerland in 2017.
Since winning its first Olympic gold medal in 1984, China has made remarkable progress in sports - not just in competitions, but among hundreds of millions of ordinary Chinese.
The hosting major international sporting events, including the Beijing 1990 Asian Games, the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games and the 2015 World Championships in Athletics, has greatly boosted fervor for sports among the public, as has the development of professional sports leagues in China.
President Xi has on many occasions expounded on his understanding of sports and taken the lead in the efforts to turn the country into a sports powerhouse, a goal he described as part of the Chinese Dream of national rejuvenation.
"Sports are an important indicator of social development and human progress, and an important manifestation of overall national strength and social civility," he said when meeting with IOC President Bach in Nanjing in 2014.
During his meeting with FIBA President Muratore in 2019, Xi said sports are an important part of both China's prosperity and the people's healthy and happy lives, noting that China is building itself into a leading sports nation.
After Beijing won the bid to host the 2022 Winter Olympics, Xi called for efforts to engage more than 300 million people in winter sports across the country.
The National Games and the upcoming Winter Olympics are set to become new milestones on China's journey towards a full-fledged global sports powerhouse.
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