BEIJING — China, already a world power in summer sports, has set off on an ambitious “Long March” — getting 300 million people involved in skiing and skating events, as promised in Beijing’s bid file for the 2022 Winter Olympics.
“We believe the Winter Olympics bid could boost participation and involvement in winter sports across China,” said Liu Peng, head of the Chinese Olympic Committee.
“The fast development of winter sports may also change the lifestyle of millions of Chinese and help them live a healthier and more enjoyable life.”
Winter sports have been popular in cold northeastern Chinese provinces of Heilongjiang, Jilin and Liaoning. A traditional project titled “Take Millions of Teenagers to Ice and Snow” has been organized for decades and International Olympic Committee member Yang Yang was one of the beneficiaries.
“Thanks to this project, I had the chance to learn to skate at school over 30 years ago,” said Yang, who was born in Qitaihe, a small town in Heilongjiang.
Yang started to learn skating at the age of eight and was selected to the national team in 1995. She won China’s first ever Winter Olympic gold medal at the Salt Lake City Games in 2002.
Now Yang runs a skating rink in Shanghai, a southeastern metropolis over 1,000 kilometers south of her hometown. It was impossible to find a place for skating in Shanghai in the past but the Chinese commercial center has nine skating rinks now.
“I am delighted to see that skating is getting more and more popular in Shanghai,” Yang said. “Our rink receives 400 to 500 skaters per day on the weekend and I found the attendance quite satisfactory.”
“Students from 14 schools have started to take skating classes at our rink since March, which means we will have 2,000 kids learning skating here this semester,” she added.
Yang is confident that the objective of attracting 300 million Chinese people to winter sports will be achieved.
“I don’t see why not,” she said. “When we talk about the Winter Olympics, we are not only talking about Beijing, but also the rest of China. Taking into account the rapid development of winter sports in Shanghai, Guangdong, Nanjing, I believe we can make it.”
Yao Ming, the former NBA star who has been named a promotion ambassador of the Beijing 2022 bid, agreed.
“There are quite a lot of winter sports enthusiasts in south China,” he said.
“The Winter Olympic Games not only promote winter sports, but also offer us great opportunities to enjoy life and have some leisure. I think more and more Chinese would like to get out of crowded cities and enjoy outdoor sports like most of the winter events,” he added.
Yao’s four-year-old daughter has already taken a few practices at local rinks.
“I have taken her to figure skating shows quite a few times and she seems to like it,” Yao said.
According to the Chinese Skiing Association (CSA), ski resorts across China received 3 million domestic visits in the 2013-2014 season, up from merely 10,000 for the 1995-1996 season.
“If we assume that a skier goes skiing 2.5 times per winter, there should be approximately one million skiers all over China,” a CAS official said.
“Skiing is no doubt getting more and more popular in China, but the amount of people involved is still small compared to sports like football and basketball. We need to work hard over the next years.”