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Reviewing the 2012 Nike Festival of Sport

The second Nike Festival of Sport (FoW) took place in Shanghai last weekend. Brash, loud and invariably crowded, the inaugural event had a very Chinese feel to its organisation and this time around, the global sports giant was hoping for an event that had the same buzz and without the chaos.

Situated on the car parks and astroturf pitches surrounding the Shanghai stadium, things certainly felt neater and more thought-out than what had been predicted and from an accessibility point of view, there certainly didn’t seem to be any problems. Everything was sign posted and there seemed to be a clear line of communication between event organisers and the people coming to see the various events.

Moreover, judging from the numbers of people moving around from place to place, the punters seemed to be appreciating the event and were staying around to take part in the different activities despite the weather alternating between extreme humidity and heavy rain.

This being a Nike event in Asia, there was obviously going to be a cameo appearance from Lebron James, and even the American found the almost cultish reception awaiting him on every corner somewhat overwhelming, but all in all, the event felt just as much about Chinese athletes.

With several recognisable Chinese athletes including Yi Jianlian and Li Gen in attendance as well as other less well-known names like the NFL special teams prospect, Long Ding, it was great that school kids could point to somewhere who plays their sport and use them as a benchmark for where they want to be in a decade.

The range of sports that people could try out was also fairly varied. There was the traditional favourites like basketball, soccer and tennis but there was also more unusual ones (by Chinese standards anyway) such as baseball, American football, golf and shot put.

Though it’s unlikely that you’ll see a Chinese pitcher starting on opening day in the MLB anytime soon, there fact these opportunities are here can only start that process. The fact that Nike brought amateurs along who play in the city’s American football teams along for exhibitions of flag football also neatly demonstrated what can be achieved if enough Chinese enthusiasts get together and form a team.

Arguably, the only real criticism that could be aimed at this year’s FoW is one that could be aimed at almost any sporting exhibition like this- namely the confused idea of women in sport. Indeed, as ubiquitous as they are in sporting events, one wonders if the event really needed the presence of the New England Patriots’ cheerleading squad or the sheer number of comely Chinese girls squeezed into Lycra two pieces milling around the festival.

Like many countries in the world, the number of men regularly playing sport vastly outnumbers women but especially in Asia, where the latter are under enormous pressure to be ‘glamorous’ or ‘cute’, it would be great if Nike could push the idea of female athletes are just that rather than eye candy

Yes, there were female athletes at the event and Nike did put on a women’s basketball tournament for U-19’s and U-23’s basketball but one would struggle to argue that the girls sweating away on the court enjoyed anywhere near the level of exposure of their pom-pom wielding counterparts.

Nike can and often is accused of trying to make its brand more important the sport itself but commendably, the event felt like a celebration of Chinese sport instead of an opportunity to sell trainers.

Beyond the simple fact that China remains Nike’s biggest market and the company is determined to widen its profit margin in the Middle Kingdom, it seems almost certain that the FoW will be back in Shanghai for 2013. The formula, though somewhat flawed and occasionally star driven, has been a success for the second year running and in an age of often highly cynical business tactics, the fact that Nike is doing its bit to encourage more Chinese people to take up sport can only be a good thing.

Video: Courtesy of Nike Basketball

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