*By: Gary Tu

“Work hard and play hard,” is how the students at NYU Shanghai frequently describe themselves. They know they have to work hard to succeed in their courses, but they also want to play, especially sports!

However, the lack of opportunities for sport at NYU Shanghai has been an ongoing frustration. The cancellation of all sports team activities this year due to the pandemic has added to the dilemma. But with the continuing easing of Covid-19 rules and the move to a new campus at Qiantan in the spring, the future opportunities for students wanting to play many sports look much brighter.

On campus at Century Avenue, NYU Shanghai had limited facilities, including one fitness gym, one billiard table, two table tennis tables, and one group-exercise room. All were in the basement. Off-campus, originally, there was sports team training and competitions against other clubs or schools, but this fall no sporting activity was successfully held by the school. It was tough for everyone.

The staff in NYU Shanghai’s athletic department are aware of students’ concerns about playing sports. Mainly due to the current pandemic situation, sports activities outside school are difficult to organize. “The Board of Education issued a guideline that does not recommend schools in Shanghai to organize extracurricular activities,” said Nicole Wu, administrator of the athletics program.

“And, given the tense atmosphere of the pandemic this semester, the school decided to focus on ensuring the normal conduct of students’ academic study. Since sports are extracurricular activities, they are put into second place,” Wu said.“We truly understand the problems students are currently facing, but what we can do is only give them some advice on booking courts instead of doing that for them,” she added.

Photo caption: NYU Shanghai coaching staff, with Nicole Wu in the middle.

Organizing off-campus sports opportunities is currently impossible for the athletic department, but it is still trying hard to set up as many events as possible on campus. “We noticed students’ enthusiasm for playing table tennis, so during this semester, we organized a competition for the whole student body. It was very successful,” Wu said.

Jeremy Liu, the fitness program coordinator, pointed to a “fitness challenge” organized in the gym which attracted 30 to 40 students. It involved five challenges: push-ups, pull-ups, flat support, single-leg balance, and squatting. “Also, we provided one-on-one training and group conditioning for students in the gym. They can easily make appointments on Engage,” Liu said.

Fortunately, as NYU Shanghai is moving to Qiantan Campus in the spring semester, the athletic department is sure that the situation will be improved. Nicole Wu and Jeremy Liu are keen to point out that the fitness gym on the new campus will be three times larger than the current one. Two indoor sporting areas in the basement will have three full-size basketball courts, catering to fans of basketball, volleyball, and badminton. Three ping pong tables, two locker rooms, and a bigger group exercise room will be added.

However, if students want to play soccer or tennis, they will still need to go off-campus just as they did in the past. The high expense and great difficulty in booking an off-campus sporting venue have been a perennial cause of student concern. “

I always have to book one to two weeks in advance to get a certain court at a certain time,” said Vicky Yao, who organized five soccer games outside the school during the 2022 fall semester. “And the courts are very expensive. For a seven-a-side court, it costs 1400 yuan every two hours. Shared with each person, the court fee alone will be 70-100 yuan, not to mention the travel fare. All up, it usually costs a student over one hundred to play a game.”

Photo caption: Students gather to play soccer outside school, with Vicky Yao third from left in the back row.

Another concern of students is the difficulty in finding partners to play with, especially during midterms and finals. “I only know seven to eight students who play badminton. If most of them are unavailable, we can’t play that week,” said Mason An.

Bruce Zhang, another badminton lover, highlighted his worries.“Sometimes, I have to book a court many days in advance without knowing whether the game can be successfully organized. If it can’t, the money will be wasted.”

The athletics department staff are aware of the problems and plan to act in the future to solve them, as Nicole Wu outlined. “Qiantan Sports Park is next to our new campus with real grass soccer fields and outdoor tennis courts,” she said. “I have visited these fields and the quality is quite good. Thus, we will probably cooperate with the sports park in the future and rent their fields for some soccer or tennis activities.

“Of course, if students want to play sports that are not available on campus and the school has enough resources, including budget and staff supervision, our athletic department will surely negotiate with the venues to help them get access for free. “I believe that with sports activities being organized, more and more students will be attracted, so the difficulty of finding partners will also be solved,” Wu said.

Students like Bruce Zhang hold high expectations for the future. “Although the sports atmosphere in our school is still relatively light now, I believe after moving to the new campus, with increasing athletic facilities and sports opportunities, more and more students will get the chance to do sports,” he said. “Gradually a sporting atmosphere, even a sports culture, can be created.”