With the Second World War and the Civil War over, Chinese people could spend more time playing or watching sports. China had many traditional sports, including martial arts, table tennis, and dragon boat racing. The Republic of China saw foreign sports introduced into the country. Football was introduced by Europeans, while baseball and basketball were introduced by Americans. The Chinese government, eager to preserve traditional Chinese culture, promoted the traditional Chinese sports. At the same time, to enhance China’s prestige abroad, there would be much focus on western sports as well. Football was given a priority. The Republic of China Sports Federation invited foreign coaches to train their athletes and foreign players to play in their leagues. Yang Sen, a former warlord who served as the organization’s president, hoped to get China to win a world cup one day.
Despite the efforts put in by many, China failed to qualify for the FIFA World Cup in 1954, 1958, and 1962. In 1966, however, China finally qualified for the World Cup. It was a cause for great excitement in China. Minkuo electronics saw a spike in profits as many Chinese families bought televisions for the first time to watch The Chinese national team compete in England. Unfortunately for their fans, China’s football team its first match against Italy, and then lost against North Korea. In 1970, China failed to qualify again. In the years since, China has qualified for the world cup more often than not, but it has never won the World Cup. The world Cup was finally held in China in 2006.
Basketball was slowly gaining popularity in China. The China Basketball League was founded in 1958. Foreigners, almost exclusively Americans early on, made up a large percentage of basketball players in China. Many of these people were those who were talented but couldn’t make it into the NBA. For a while, China was able to recruit some talented African-American players who were discriminated against back home. Chinese baseball was similar to Chinese basketball in that it was a foreign sport slowly becoming more popular in the country. Baseball had a sort of head start over basketball, however. Baseball was already popular in Taiwan. During the 50s and 60s, Taiwanese players dominated the nascent China Baseball League.
Taiwanese athletes also made their mark on the Olympics. Yang Chuan-kwang, a Taiwanese aboriginal decathlon athlete, won China’s first medal, silver, in 1960. China won very few Olympic medals during this period of time. Chinese athletes, many with military backgrounds, did well in shooting events during the Chiang Kai-shek era and beyond. China would not become a major Olympic powerhouse until the 1980s. In 1966, however, with allegations of bribery involved, it was announced that China would host the Olympics. The 1972 Olympic games would be held in Shanghai. China spent billions of Yuan on the Olympics, money that many activists claimed would be better spent elsewhere. Nevertheless, China was determined to make it work.
Security was increased. Shanghai hadn’t experienced any major subversive activity recently, but the government was still determined to take every precaution to make sure things stayed that way. Some protesters were arrested in the weeks and months leading up to the event. The opening ceremony was attended by both Chiang Kai-shek and his son, Chiang Ching-kuo, as well as Yang Sen. The opening ceremony was well-choreographed and included many displays of Chinese culture, such as the dragon dance. The ceremony blended the traditional with the modern, showing that even though China was a country that valued its long history, it was a forward-looking, modern country. China won some medals, though not nearly as many as the US or the Soviet Union, who dominated the games. China would host the Olympics again, when the winter games were held in Harbin in 2002.