Up­grade: Moves to boost mass ap­peal

China Daily (Latin America Weekly) - - China -

while rais­ing the pro­file of win­ter sports is a top pri­or­ity for the coun­try’s sports gov­ern­ing body.

Gou Zhong­wen, min­is­ter of the Gen­eral Ad­min­is­tra­tion of Sport of China, called for full sup­port from the coun­try’s sports sec­tor in or­der to fur­ther pro­mote win­ter sports.

“The win­ter sports sec­tor re­mains un­der­de­vel­oped in our coun­try. We shall in­vest in build­ing more fa­cil­i­ties and con­duct bet­ter pro­mo­tion to boost win­ter sports par­tic­i­pa­tion to new heights,” he said.

De­spite a late start com­pared to win­ter sports pow­ers in the West, in­fra­struc­ture up­grad­ing in re­cent years has turned win­ter sports from a niche in­ter­est iso­lated to north­east­ern China into a mass sport­ing ac­tiv­ity widely em­braced across the coun­try.

When Song An­dong, the first Chi­nese player drafted in the North Amer­ica-based Na­tional Hockey League, started to learn the sport in early 2000s, he had to share a small rink with chil­dren prac­tic­ing fig­ure skat­ing, as it was the only fa­cil­ity avail­able in down­town Bei­jing.

Now there are around 30 in­door rinks in Bei­jing and 66 more will be built by 2022, ac­cord­ing to the Bei­jing Mu­nic­i­pal Sports Bureau’s win­ter sports devel­op­ment plan.

“The change has been dra­matic in re­cent years, es­pe­cially since Bei­jing’s suc­cess­ful bid for the 2022 Olympics. Skat­ing is now an ac­ces­si­ble ex­er­cise for kids in Bei­jing,” said Song, who was se­lected by the New York Is­landers in the 2015 NHL Draft.

At the elite level, in­ter­na­tional com­pe­ti­tion is now part of the life of ur­ban win­ter sports fans across China, even in the south.

Af­ter stag­ing the NHL’s first ever China game be­tween the Los An­ge­les Kings and the Van­cou­ver Canucks in Septem­ber, Shang­hai is now host­ing a stretch of home games of the Kun­lun Red Star men’s team in the Rus­sia-based Kon­ti­nen­tal Hockey League.

Mean­while, the club’s fe­male squad will kick off a four-game home run in the Cana­dian Women’s Hockey League in Shen­zhen, Guang­dong prov­ince.

Kevin West­garth, NHL vi­cepres­i­dent of busi­ness devel­op­ment and in­ter­na­tional af­fairs, said the con­sis­tent ex­po­sure to high-level com­pe­ti­tion will help in­crease the ap­petite for win­ter sports.

“It’s an ex­cit­ing time to see the pace that things hap­pen in China ... I think the po­ten­tial is end­less,” said West­garth. “Most im­por­tantly, 2022 won’t be the end. It will still be part of the beginning.”

Mean­while, ski­ing has be­come a ma­jor out­door leisure ac­tiv­ity in China.

As one of the most-vis­ited ski­ing des­ti­na­tions in China, Wan­long Ski Re­sort in Chongli, a county in Bei­jing’s 2022 co-host city of Zhangji­akou in He­bei prov­ince, was busy pre­par­ing ski slopes and test­ing ca­ble­cars over the week­end to pre­pare for the 2017-18 snow sea­son.

Fea­tur­ing 22 slopes, the re­sort re­ceived 450,000 skiers in the 2016-17 sea­son and is ex­pected to serve more than 600,000 this year, ac­cord­ing to Wang Lin, man­ager of its ser­vice department.

“It’s a challenge for us to up­grade our fa­cil­i­ties and ser­vices to meet the grow­ing de­mand from skiers,” said Wang.

Since winning the joint bid with Bei­jing to be­come the host of all snow events of the 2022 Win­ter Olympics, ma­jor re­sorts, in­clud­ing Wan­long, have been built in Chongli, bring­ing the to­tal there to seven. More than 2.6 mil­lion skiers vis­ited the county last win­ter, gen­er­at­ing to­tal rev­enue of 1.89 billion yuan ($285 mil­lion).

Still, the coun­try has set its sights on big­ger gains by rolling out an am­bi­tious win­ter sports devel­op­ment plan.

China aims to build a to­tal of 650 skat­ing rinks and 800 ski re­sorts by 2022, lay­ing the foun­da­tion for the win­ter sports sec­tor to gen­er­ate in­dus­try value of 1 tril­lion yuan from spend­ing at venues, equip­ment pro­duc­tion and train­ing fees by 2025, ac­cord­ing to the plan un­veiled at the end of 2016.

China had 646 ski re­sorts in op­er­a­tion and 11.3 mil­lion skiers, who ski at least once a year, by the end of 2016, ac­cord­ing to the an­nual re­port on the devel­op­ment of the ski in­dus­try in China.

The plan also called for ex­pand­ing win­ter sports ed­u­ca­tion to 2,000 schools as part of their PE cur­ricu­lum by 2022, while Bei­jing alone has se­lected 52 schools for a pi­lot pro­gram to of­fer such train­ing at lo­cal rinks and re­sorts.

De­spite the gov­ern­ment push, ob­servers warn that pro­mo­tions should be cau­tiously im­ple­mented with integrated think­ing and plan­ning in staff train­ing, con­struc­tion de­sign and en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion.

“To avoid a waste of re­sources af­ter the Olympics, lo­cal gov­ern­ments should take tourism, in­fra­struc­ture and ed­u­ca­tion plans into con­sid­er­a­tion,” said Yang Hua, a sports so­ci­ol­ogy ex­pert from Bei­jing Sport Univer­sity.

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