In China, Teaching Crowds To Cheer

In China, people who have never before seen a live sporting event are filling stadium seats. Chinese officials are worried that budding fans don't know how to cheer, so volunteers are offering lessons.

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MADELEINE BRAND, host

This is Day to Day. I'm Madeleine Brand.

ALEX CHADWICK, host

I'm Alex Chadwick. To the Olympics now. In Beijing, China is number one in the over-all medal count, just ahead of the Americans. The men's Chinese gymnastics team won gold. They took back the top position from their archrivals, the Japanese, who won in Athens four years ago.

BRAND: China is hardly a country of sports fans. For many, these Olympic Games are the first live athletic events they've ever attended. Jamila Trindle reports from Beijing.

JAMILA TRINDLE: Outside Beijing's Workers Stadium, people are trickling out into the busy street. Many of them have just seen their first boxing match.

Mr. LEE YOUNG (Chinese Olympics Spectator): (Chinese spoken)

TRINDLE: Lee Young (ph) says he would rather have seen Sunday's U.S.-China basketball game. He's not even a boxing fan, but it's hard enough to get a ticket, let alone get the one you really want.

Ms. LIN SUE SHA (Chinese Olympics Spectator): (Though translator) Actually, I don't even like sports. I just wanted to see the Games in person.

TRINDLE: Lin Sue Sha (ph) came with her friends from Hong Kong to watch boxing and volleyball because those were the events they could get tickets to. She and her friends are all wearing Go China t-shirts, but, unfortunately, they haven't actually gotten to see China compete.

Ms. SHA: (Through translator): It doesn't matter. If there is no Chinese team, I just pick one. Otherwise, the game isn't interesting to watch.

TRINDLE: Chinese sports expert, Professor Susan Brownell from the University of Missouri, St. Louis, says Chinese spectators have little experience with many of these sports.

Dr. SUSAN BROWNELL (Anthropology, University of Missouri, St. Louis): The vast majority of the spectators attending these Games probably are not regular sport spectators, and they probably have never been to a live event or at least certainly not, you know, in a big arena, a big stadium.

TRINDLE: Once inside the stadium, officials worry that Chinese fans wouldn't know what to do. So volunteers have been given the task of teaching them their place inside venues all over the city.

Dr. BROWNELL: Yeah, that's really necessary. If you don't know what you're seeing, you need to know even simple things, like how to cheer.

TRINDLE: These volunteers are demonstrating the sport of tae kwon do. This is another way the city hopes the familiarize people with all the different Olympic sports. While they are trying to build enthusiasm, organizers are also wary of large crowds, especially at the unticketed events. Susan Brownell says she had a hard time even finding the cycling race.

Dr. BROWNELL: They don't want large crowds of people accumulating everywhere, and they're adopting strategies to make sure that that doesn't happen. So with the cycling races, they don't release specific information about exactly where it starts. You have to walk around until you get to the road blocks, and when you reach the road blocks, you know you're getting close.

TRINDLE: But most people are watching the Games on television, in any case. On a recent morning, one woman was watching while she did her daily exercises, but even she said she mostly watches the Games at home.

Most people are in other parts of the park doing their exercise routines in small groups. Some with fans, some swinging batons. Even though they're not glued to the coverage here in the park, many say they're watching it all at home, and though everybody's cheering for the home team, they've now been schooled in the rules of sportsmanship.

Unidentified Woman: (Through translator) We sports fans all understand, win or lose, the most important thing is to participate.

TRINDLE: And participating in these Games is definitely turning some casual spectators into real fans. For NPR News, I'm Jamila Trindle in Beijing.

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