Alibaba’s Joe Tsai and Basketball Star Yao Ming Team Up to Promote School Sports In China

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Alibaba’s Joe Tsai and Basketball Star Yao Ming Team Up to Promote School Sports In China

  • Joe Tsai Foundation awards 10 school principals for contributions to physical education
  • Tsai and Yao are raising awareness of sports’ health and social benefits in schools

Tsai believes sports education builds character. Photo credit: Alibaba Group

Sports enthusiasts Joe Tsai and basketball player Yao Ming joined forces this week to encourage more students to get out of the classroom and onto the sports field.

Athletes, government officials and charitable foundations gathered at a conference on Thursday to review the state of physical education in China, discuss how to nurture sportsmanship and celebrate 10 school principals for their contributions to sports.

Often parents in China think their children should spend less time playing sports and more time on bookwork. Space in the curriculum for sports is under pressure and funds allocated to facilities and equipment are often woefully inadequate.

Tsai and Yao are playing defense, as they believe sports instill important life skills in students, build physical and mental resilience, as well as an appreciation of teamwork.

“You always want to win when you play, but learning to face failure is more valuable,” said Tsai during the conference in Hangzhou, China.

Tsai, Alibaba Group’s chairman, also believes lessons learnt on the sports field are also applicable in business. “Inspiration, stress management and leadership skills have come from my experiences in sports competitions,” he said.

Yao, a former pro basketball player for Shanghai Sharks and the Houston Rockets, recounted a time in 1996 when he missed six free throws and his team lost by three points; the experience made him even more determined to score. “You don’t want it to happen again, so you’re motivated to change it,” said Yao at the event.

Yao Ming (right), Olympic gold medalist Yang Yang (centre) speak at the conference about the importance of sports education. Photo credit: Alibaba Group
Yao Ming (right), Olympic gold medalist Yang Yang (centre) speak at the conference about the benefits of sports. Photo credit: Alibaba Group

Awards for Educators

To help cultivate an appreciation for physical education from within the school system, the Joe Tsai Foundation has been running an awards program for school principals in China for the past four years.   

One of 2023’s 10 winners celebrated on Thursday, Hou Mingfei is principal of an urban public primary school in the northeastern Chinese province of Liaoning, where only 3% of the 2,277 students are obese and 13.8% suffer from myopia, far below the national average. At 48 years old, he has worked for six years as a school principal and attributes the robustness of his pupils to three hours of sports a day.  

Over 2,500 principals have participated in the awards program since its launch in 2019, 41 of them have received funding, and more than 2 million teachers and students have benefitted in some way.

“The principal is the soul of a school,” said Jiang Qingguo, the deputy director of the youth sports department under the General Administration of Sport, who attended the conference.

Conference delegates also discussed how sports can support teenagers’ mental health.

“The key to solving the psychological problems of young people is not in the hands of psychology teachers, but in the hands of physical education teachers,” said one of the previous award winners and a delegate this year, Xing Xiangzhao.

Past and present winners of the awards for sports education for school principals with Joe Tsai Foundation staff. Ninth from left: Joe Tsai. Photo credit: Alibaba Group
Past and present winners of the awards for school principals with Joe Tsai Foundation staff. Ninth from left: Joe Tsai. Photo credit: Alibaba Group

Life Skills

Tsai is a firm believer that sports education cultivates a healthy lifestyle and nurtures family relationships.

“I keep a schedule of all my kids’ games. Whenever time allows, I will go and watch them play,” said Tsai. “If parents can participate in their children’s games, even if it’s just as a spectator, it greatly supports and encourages children,” said Tsai.

Tsai has often spoken about how sports helped him settle into life in the U.S. after moving from Taiwan at 13 years old. He played high school football and lacrosse and in his freshman year at Yale, he walked on to the varsity lacrosse team and continued to play for four years.

“During the game, you need to communicate with teammates, discuss tactics, and analyze problems. Through sports, I have also made friends with many classmates with different backgrounds and personalities,” said Tsai.

Guo Jingjing, Ambassador of the Hong Kong Committee of UNICEF agreed: “Sports allow a family to learn and grow together.” Gao is a retired Chinese diver and Olympic gold medalist.

Lifelong Love of Sports

Tsai remains an avid sports fan. He owns several professional sports teams, including the WNBA’s New York Liberty and the National Lacrosse League’s San Diego Seals, as well as co-owner of the Brooklyn Nets.

Tsai and Yao both support sports via their charitable foundations. The Joe Tsai Foundation and the Yao Foundation are both founding members of an initiative dubbed “Sports for the Future”.  

Launched in 2018, the Joe Tsai Foundation has also supported women’s soccer in China, a project to involve more parents in their children’s sports and a basketball scholarship project, among other initiatives.

In 2021, The Joe and Clara Tsai Foundation backed a research alliance to gain a deeper understanding of the science behind athletes’ high physical performance in the hope that the knowledge could ultimately improve health for all.

Joe TsaiJoe Tsai FoundationPhilanthropySportswellness
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