Nov 3, 2016
When I first arrived in Suzhou the opportunity to participate in sporting events as an expatriate seemed not to extend very far beyond the weekly football league. This bi-annually run competition, with a few stand-alone knock-out day events thrown in for good measure, although fun and competitive, reflected the somewhat limited status quo of the sporting landscape a decade ago. Fast forward to today and, although the league still runs, the teams have changed in all but a few cases and, in most, beyond recognition. This is in part a reflection of the typical life cycle of expatriate teams, but also the regular comings and goings of the foreign players that typify overseas life, alongside the seemingly enduring appeal of the game being played.
More recently however, as the number of overseas employees have increased, the opportunities to compete in a more diverse range of sports has grown exponentially. For domestically appealing games, such as badminton, table tennis and basketball, local communities can and often do promote and run small scale events. Advertisements and invitations may be placed and offered by housing complexes, workplaces and even local independent organisers. Some even attract high quality competitors and fields with the SIP badminton and Jin Ji Hu dragon boat race, and half marathons cases in point.
For many, and with children in mind as well, local sports clubs also often offer competitive outlets. Taekwondo and martial arts in general tend to be very good at showcasing their sports, as well as the organisation or independent companies that back them. Schools and universities also offer opportunities to enter into competitions. In contrast to Europe and North America, for example, where quite established leagues exist and cup competitions are run, here the tendency is often for standalone fixtures, with entry into events being relatively last minute affairs due to when the competition details are released. This can prove both a blessing and a bane depending on how one considers it.
Emerging also in recent years has been the relative rise in popularity of more typically Western dominated sports. Games such as rugby, hockey and cricket have emerged to establish a stable base in the city. The local organising clubs also then enter and compete in national and regional competitions with varying degrees of success. The Suzhou Cricket Club recently featured in the Xiamen Sixes and lost a narrow semi-final game to Shanghai, who went on to lose the final to Chengdu, incidentally a team Suzhou had beaten in a very close game in the group stage. Suzhou also features in the rugby sevens, tens and fifteens, and the ten’s season is currently underway, having just played a round of fixtures in Hangzhou, with the next set in Nanjing before concluding in Shanghai. In terms of Shanghai, the city by virtue of its size produces some strong sides with some very talented players. It has good rugby and cricket teams, and also a very good hockey side whose players compete internationally.
In fairness pitch quality can be problematic at times, with grass pitches not as lovingly tended as one might expect at home, and astro surfaces varying significantly in terms of surface quality. The risk of injury also has to be factored in and limited health care may prove a deterrent for some potential players. Thankfully, in most cases the rise of a diverse range of sporting competitions has added an extra string to the city’s bow and provided an opportunity for many that quite simply did not exist previously.
About the Column
Gareth Morris is a university language teacher. He is also a part-time doctoral student. Gareth first moved to China in 2005 and, after spending a couple of years back in the UK studying for his PGCE and Masters, has now returned to the city he calls home. During his time in China Gareth has travelled extensively. His travels have taken him from Beijing and Xian to Kunming and Haikou. He has also spent time in Hong Kong and Macao. In addition to this, Gareth has lived in a number of countries across Europe, North and Central America and Asia. Closer to home, Gareth has enjoyed visiting numerous localities within Jiangsu, Zhejiang and Anhui. His Livingsu column will explore local places of interest found within walking distance of Metro line 1.