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China’s “Zero COVID” Strategy Continues to Stifle CrossFit in Country

March 14, 2022 by
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Alan Scanlan
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As the Western world continues to move on from COVID-19, dropping mandates and beginning to treat the virus as endemic, China finds itself in a precarious situation. The country’s “zero COVID” policy, in which outbreaks are stamped out at all costs, including locking down millions of people at a moment’s notice, now looks like a lost cause.

The strategy proved incredibly useful during the first part of the pandemic in 2020 as the world grappled with trying to slow down the spread of COVID. The Chinese Communist Party, in looking to differentiate itself from the US and the West, touted the strategy as a superior way to fight the virus, minimize deaths and keep healthcare services from breaking down.

Now three months into 2022 and it is clear China’s COVID strategy is doing more harm than good. The country remains unable to open up to the international world, as entering is almost impossible unless you are a Chinese national. Cities continue to be locked down at a moment’s notice to stamp out a low number of cases, and Hong Kong, a special administrative region, finds itself in the grips of an unprecedented wave of infections after staying relatively unscathed during 2022 due to incredibly tight restrictions and the world’s longest quarantine for arrivals. 

The collateral damage is piling up, however there does appear to be a light at the end of the tunnel. Liang Kong, China’s CrossFit country manager, admitted COVID has presented unprecedented challenges for the mainland, however he remains optimistic moving forward.

  • “CrossFit is picking up its growth rate in China under the high pressure of COVID restrictions from the administrative level,” said Kong, who is a former police officer who started his own affiliate. “As a result, we had a significantly positive trend regarding affiliation applications and the Open registration in January and February. Yes, we have some friends who failed their businesses due to the long-term lockdown and struggling with retaining members. However, more we have seen is the support from every corner of the community for keeping their beloved boxes lights on and functioning at their best through the most challenging time.”

Less Studying, More Exercise

Kong pointed to the government’s “Double Reduction Policy”, a project spearheaded by China’s Ministry of Education, as a good sign for sports and athletics moving forward. Under the initiative, the government has reigned in the private tutoring sector in a country known for placing immense pressure on children to get into the right colleges, as well as clamping down on the number of hours students can study outside of regular schooling hours.

This leaves a lot of free time for the country’s youth, said Kong, and he is hoping sports, athletics, and CrossFit, can take its place: 

  • “The biggest challenge is letting the local government fully accept CrossFit, this American-orientated brand, as an effective solution for improving people’s health and avoiding chronic diseases in general. Any business endeavor should have local administrative support if they try to have exponential exposure in public and being well-known, CrossFit is no exception. Due to the intriguing political relationship between bilateral sides, the conflict of ideology might hugely affect the growth in China.”

Doing The Open During an Outbreak of COVID Cases

As the 2022 CrossFit Open winds down, numbers across the board are up, however still falling short of expectations. Eric Roza’s grand plans of turning CrossFit into an internationally recognized brand may have been put on hold, and ultimately squashed by the pandemic, however China has shown its resiliency in not only fighting COVID, but in dealing with heavy-handed restrictions.

In Hong Kong, Coastal Fitness founder, CEO and CrossFit coach Ed Haynes said they have to get creative to make sure their members were still able to do the workouts. This included creating “pods” with judges and 30 minute windows where members of the local CrossFit community could get their workouts in and not break social distancing regulations in the region. 

  • “Other things we’re doing during the lockdown is roaming pods where coaches are moving through outdoor spaces where people are working out,” added Haynes. “But without having it run as a group class, and also running free 30 minute fitness sessions for all of Hong Kong to basically try and help Hongkongers out, all done via Zoom.”

Haynes said they have also upped their online content for the 2022 Open, trying to keep the community connected digitally as gyms remain closed to try and stamp out a wave of cases. 

The Future of CrossFit in China

Clearly, challenges remain for CrossFit in China if the country is to stick to its “zero COVID” policy moving forward, however Kong said the one upside is now an increased appreciation for everyday citizens when it comes to staying healthy, first and foremost as a way to fight off viruses and diseases such as COVID. 

  • “Being fit and healthy is the ultimate goal for most Chinese middle class,” he added. “The awareness of staying optimal at physiological and psychological levels has never been so fixated in China like before. While most people are still chasing endurance training for longevity, the more educated groups have been doing physical exercise and strength training for better outcomes. CrossFit has been the most significant company when the conversation referred to functional training. We absolutely will benefit from the more awakened awareness of the public for creating a healthy lifestyle as a recognizable brand that provides an elegant solution more interestingly.” 

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