XINJIANG KEEN TO SHOWCASE HIGH AMBITIONS
Later this month, theXinjiang Uygur autonomous region will host China’s largest winter sports event, in a move designed to boost the popularity of skiing and ice skating across the country in preparation for the 2022 BeijingWinter Olympics, as SunXiaochen
Boasting ideal natural conditions and a welter of preparations, the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region is gearing up to host the 13th National Winter Games, and help to promote winter sports across the country.
Once an obscure spot on China’s sporting map, Xinjiang has risen rapidly as a destination for winter sports competitions and related activities. That rise was reflected when Urumqi, the regional capital, was chosen as the venue for the National Winter Games, which will run from Jan 20 to 30.
It will be the first time since the winter sports gala was introduced in 1959 that it will have been held outside the northeastern provinces of Heilongjiang and Jilin, where the frigid climate means winter sports have traditionally enjoyed huge popularity.
The Xinjiang event will see 54 provincial and municipal teams compete for 97 gold medals in 11 multi-disciplinary sports, including alpine skiing, speedskating and hockey over a 11-day period.
Despite never having staged a nationalscale sporting event before, Xinjiang’s potential as a host was obvious. Its advantages include favorable natural conditions, highlighted by abundant snowfall in moderately cold temperatures, a long tradition of sports that’s deeply embedded in local culture, the rugged terrain and the full support of the local government.
The regional authorities have attached great importance to the preparatory work. They are confident of successfully hosting the event, and promoting the image of the remote region at the same time, according to Zhang Chunxian, the Party chief ofXinjiang.
“The games provide a window for better understanding of Xinjiang’s ethnic traditions, natural landscape and modern social development. We should seize the opportunity to promote the region while demonstrating the growing participation in winter sports here,” Zhang said.
Funded by the government, a new, worldclass ice sports center in a southwestern suburb ofUrumqiwill be thevenuefor all the icerelated action, including speed and figure skating, curling and hockey, while snowbased events will be staged at two existing resorts on the outskirts of the city that have been fully refurbished for the event.
A frugal fiscal approach and a trimmed operationalbudget resulted inasaving of340 million yuan ($52 million) from the initial cost projections, said Li Guangming, deputy secretary-general of the organizing committee, whodidn’t reveal the initial cost estimate.
Measures to cut expenditures included staging curling events at an ancillary rink at the figure skating venue rather than building a new center, and moving the opening ceremony from a giant outdoor stadium, which would have required costly refurbishment, to a smaller speed skating oval.
“Under plans drafted for post-event operations, the new ice sports center will be transformed into a fixed training base for national andregionalteamsandanrecreational winter sports center for local students,” Li said.
All the proposed venues and teams of staff members have participated in warmup events, including the national curling championships and a national Alpine skiing tournament last year. A multi-ethnic team of 1,400 volunteers has been trained to work at the games.
Urumqi has also announced a series of measures to involve local residents in the games, such as the local government and ski resorts donating 50,000 free tickets to communities and providing free parking lots at major venues, such as the Silk Road Ski Resort.
Awarding Xinjiang the rights to host the quadrennial sporting gala echoed the country’s ambition to encourage 300 million people in North China to participate in winter sports and recreations while preparing for the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympic Games, said Liu Peng, China’s sports minister.
“Encouraging people to participate in winter sports outside the traditional northeastern provinces highlights Beijing’s successful bid for the 2022 Winter Olympics. Bringing this national event to the northwestern part of the country is a sound move toward implementing the plan,” Liu said.
In July, Beijing and co-host Zhangjiakou, a city in Hebei province, were awarded the rights to host the 2022 Winter Games. The announcement echoed a growing nationwide passion for skating and skiing.
Ski resorts have been benefiting from the surge in participant numbers, and not just in areas close to the Chinese capital but also in remote regions such as Xinjiang, where skiing has long been a crucial part of nomadic life.
In 2014, the Silk Road Ski Resort, in a southern suburb of Urumqi, turned its first profit in 11 years as annual visitor numbers rose by 87 percent, according to Li Jianhong, the managing director.
“Thanks to the promotion of winter sports by the successful Olympics bid and the National Winter Games, I believe the future ofmy business will be prosperous,” he said.
In 2006, archaeologists in Altay, an ethnic prefecture in northern Xinjiang, discovered rock paintings of “skiers” from the late Paleolithic era, around 12,000 years ago. The paintings, depicting hunters “skiing” on long rectangular boards with poles in their hands, are cited as evidence that Altay was probably the birthplace of skiing in China.
“From a traditional way of life to a modern sporting fashion, winter sports are seeing a newdawn in Xinjiang,” Li said.
Contact the writer at sunxiaochen@ chinadaily.com.cn
A design sketch of the medals for the 13th National Winter Games.
Has been saved fromthe initial cost projections of the 13th NationalWinter Games due to a frugal fiscal approach