Athletics at NYU Shanghai

NYU Shanghai student athletes speak up in defense of the sports program following a WSN article that reported interest in sports at NYU Shanghai is weak.

Sports teams at NYU Shanghai have endured their fair share of hardships. Despite problems like funding, finding coaches, and participating in leagues, enthusiasm for athletics is still evident in the dedicated student athletes and those who attend games. However, a recent article published Oct. 31 on NYU New York’s student newspaper, Washington Square News (WSN), headlined “Athletics take Backseat in NYU Shanghai,” claimed that interest in sports is weak or nonexistent at NYU Shanghai. Student athletes spoke out to defend NYU Shanghai athletics.

“Historically NYU Shanghai has had terrific interest in sports,” senior Jacko Walz said. Captain of the football team, Walz has had positive experiences with NYU Shanghai athletics, and references the hundreds of other NYU Shanghai students who have taken advantage of the sports opportunities offered. “New York doesn’t realize the fact that there are fifty countries represented here, so there just isn’t enough interest for every country’s sports,” Walz said.

Sports that may be represented at NYU New York simply do not make it to NYU Shanghai due to a simple factor–lack of interest and exposure. “It’s naturally going to be more challenging to get Azerbaijani students into an American football team or American students into a cricket team,” Walz said. “Despite these challenges, we’re doing an amazing job.”

However, obstacles facing student enthusiasm and participation still exist. The soccer team at NYU Shanghai is not officially in a league and do not officially participate in any matches. “We just play with each other once in awhile,” sophomore student Michael Bekson explained. “We don’t have a structured competition here in China that we can take part in throughout the year.” The continuation of the soccer team, then, largely depends on the efforts of interested students rather than a concentrated organized effort from the university. “Even if we have matches once in awhile,” Bekson said, “it’s just a matter of winning or losing. It does not have any extra purpose that could connect all of us.”

Bekson attributes the lack of attention for sports at NYU Shanghai to a different culture surrounding athletics. “College competition is a culture in America, but not here,” Bekson said. “Students do not have enough chances to see us playing.” While U.S. universities have various options in terms of leagues to join and teams to compete against, NYU Shanghai is the only university of its kind in Shanghai. “Aside from the students who are on the soccer team, I would not say a lot of people care…When we used to have our games, not a lot of fans would come to give us support,” Bekson said.

Walz agrees that sports at NYU Shanghai face some unique challenges. “Something that hurts us is that the games are in an inconvenient location; they’re never nearby,” Walz explained. “But this is because we don’t have any facilities, which is unavoidable.” NYU Shanghai’s small size and location in Shanghai’s business district mean that building sports facilities is out of the question, a necessary sacrifice for being located in the center of China’s largest city. In addition, NYU Shanghai’s study away requirement means that most junior students are not on campus. “If a core of a sports team all goes on study abroad, the backbone of the team vanishes and it can be dissolved very easily,” Walz said.

Among NYU Shanghai athletes, however, sports are an integral and meaningful part of university life. While measures on the school’s part, like selling sports jerseys in the campus store and printing posters, can be used to increase awareness for athletics, overall sports culture still exists and thrives. “We have hundreds of students involved in sports, some of whom are getting their first exposure to these sports in college,” Walz said.  “That’s amazing to me, that we have an infrastructure that encourages that. We’re still able to draw support for all sorts of sports, even from students who haven’t played them before.”

This article was written by Savannah Billman. Please send an email to to get in touch.
Photo Credit: NYU Shanghai

One thought on “Athletics at NYU Shanghai

  1. There are a few things missing in this article I’d like to add.

    Firstly to correct a misunderstanding, college competition IS a thing in China. It is not an industry as in the USA but every major school with respect for itself will have sports teams that partake in nationwide competition. Keep in mind, Xi Jinping is planning to open 3500 soccer schools in China over the next few years. It is incorrect to state the lack of college competition as a reason for NYUSH not being part of it.

    The actual reason that we do not participate in college league soccer – which is the only sport I can talk for – is that the college league is played in the winter half-year where we have our winter break. That is why we play expat league instead. It runs from the summer to December. Even then, the league has to make adjustments to their schedule just to fit our study schedule so we finish the league before finals.

    Secondly, the actual reason our school currently does not have a soccer team is not cultural matters or lack of interest. We have almost 80 people in a soccer wechat group and a solid 25-30 people show up every time we arrange casual soccer. The reason is that the school has made it in their interest to appoint a professional billingual coach to our team. Previously, the coaches were GAFs but as this program has been outphased there were no one to train the team.

    The school managed to find a Portuguese coach who was billingual and finishing his contract at the Figo Football Academy in Shanghai. They arranged to hire him but could only offer him a part-time contract which Chinese visa laws does not permit. As such, he couldn’t be hired and the search went on.
    Another criteria the school has is that the person has practical experience with soccer. That is, he knows and understands not just how to play and coach but the tactical aspects of the game.

    I made a survey in the beginning of the semester asking both the girls and the guys if they were would be okay with having a 100% Chinese speaking coach. One who speaks 0 English. Of more than 30 guys who responded less than 3 said they would not agree with that. For the girls, 25% said no to having a non-English speaking coach. These results were given to the Athletics department to take into their considerations.

    The aim of the Athletics department is to have a coach hired by the Spring term. They have continous interviews throughout the semester to ensure they find the best fit of those they are able to find. If they cannot find one they would like to work with, that will be the reason there might not be a team next semester but I have not recent updates on the progress and if they are close to finding someone.

    Finally, the soccer team from last year did try to make their own team and represent NYUSH by themselves with a player as coach but school policy made that option impossible. A NYUSH team has to be represented by a coach the school hires.

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