Alibaba Group Executive Vice Chairman Joe Tsai this week unveiled a new program to promote youth athletics in China by supporting school principals who are devoted to strengthening sports education.
His namesake charitable organization, the Joe Tsai Foundation, will give 10 of these principals RMB 500,000 in funding each over the next three years.
“[We] believe school principals play a vital role in adolescent sports education,” said Zhang Zhenghua, secretary-general of the foundation. “A principal who upholds the spirit of sports can deeply improve physical education at that school, determining the all-round development of students and its campus culture.”
Physical education is often seen as a marginal subject in the country, with schools reducing PE time or not allocating enough funds to sports facilities and equipment. “These problems can’t be systematically solved by any single teacher or parent,” Zhang said.
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Tsai said that effective sports education not only cultivates healthy lifestyles but also fosters the development of character, which is the main factor driving the creation of the initiative. He used himself as an example, talking about how sports eased his transition to the U.S. when he moved from Taiwan at 13.
“The culture and language were completely different. We even dressed differently,” said Tsai. “I thought to myself: What can I do to fit into this society, this community? I couldn’t fully express myself in class, so I decided to take on sports.”
Tsai eventually developed a love for the game of lacrosse, which he later played at Yale. He remains an avid sports fan to date, he said. Tsai is the owner of 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.
Many parents, especially in China, think that their children should spend less time playing sports and more time on other academic subjects, said Tsai. “I think that type of thinking is wrong. Sports education not only improves the physical stamina and instills a sense of teamwork in our next generation. It also cultivates the spirit of not being afraid of losing and accepting defeat,” Tsai said.
Toronto Raptors guard Jeremy Lin, who attended the launch event, also advocated for the value of sports education and the life skills that basketball has taught him.
“How can you inspire the best performance for the team as a whole, beyond being a good teammate yourself. This requires modestly and hard work. How to deal with victory or failure, how not to give up – basketball taught me all of this,” said Lin. “It’s very important for kids to play and compete in sports.”
In 2017, Alibaba established the Poverty Relief Fund to combat poverty in rural China, with Joe Tsai serving as vice chairman, leading efforts specifically on adolescent sports education and vocational education. These also became the two main focus areas of his own charitable organization, the Joe Tsai Foundation, which launched last August. Earlier this month, the Foundation also contributed to a RMB 1 billion fund – along with the Alipay Foundation and the Jack Ma Foundation – to support women’s soccer in China over the next 10 years.