Teenage hockey player Song Andong (left) and Yao Ming, a 2022 Winter Olympic bid ambassador for Beijing, give interviews in Kuala Lumpur on July 29, two days ahead of the International Olympic Committee’s selection of the host city for the Games.[Photo by Cheng Gong/China Daily]
China’s sports governing body has announced a $30 million program to develop the country’s less-popular winter events.
Zhao Yinggang, deputy secretary-general of the Beijing bid committee and director of China’s winter sports administrative center, made the announcement on July 29 in Kuala Lumpur, where International Olympic Committee members are meeting to select the host site of the 2022 Winter Games. Beijing and proposed co-host Zhangjiakou, Hebei province, are competing for the Games against Almaty, Kazakhstan.
“As part of our mission highlighted in the bid, we have made a plan to invest $30 million in government funds to start cultivating some sports we haven’t developed yet and to support those niche ones in which we are lagging behind,” Zhao said.
While China is an emerging force in winter sports, its strength is limited in many such activities, with sports such as ice hockey still outside the mainstream.
However, Beijing’s bid for the 2022 Winter Olympics and the attention the country has received from Beijing teenager Song Andong’s selection in the National Hockey League draft have provided the country a golden opportunity to catch up, Zhao said.
Of the 102 sports included in the Winter Olympics program, 75 have seen professional and amateur participation in China, and the new funding project will target underdeveloped events, particularly bobsledding, luge and the Nordic combined, Zhao said.
Yao Ming, bid ambassador for Beijing, said the capital’s joint bid with Zhangjiakou for the 2022 Games will result in more talented sports stars such as Song emerging in China’s traditionally weak events, as the country gets winter-sports fever.
“The 2008 (Summer) Games gave us a chance to experience the Olympic spirit. I think the 2022 Games will give us another opportunity to reach a higher level in terms of involving more people in winter sports,” the retired NBA star said.
Song, drafted by the NHL’s New York Islanders last month, is also in Kuala Lumpur to support his hometown when the IOC votes on the 2022 Games’ host city on Friday.
“When I first heard the idea (of Beijing’s bid), I was very excited,” said the 18-year-old, who started playing hockey with a Beijing club at age 6.
“It’s a dream for any athlete to compete in the Olympics, and it’s a special honor to be able to do it in your home country and in the city where you grew up. So I was excited, because I feel I will have the opportunity.”
Thanks to the attention brought by Beijing’s bid on winter sports, Song, who moved to Canada for advanced hockey training at age 10, envisions becoming the Yao Ming of the NHL.
“Yao has always been a role model for me. What he’s done with his own career, for basketball in China, I try to do the same thing for hockey,” he said.
Hockey’s grassroots participation had already taken off in Beijing before Song’s ascent to the professional podium, as 96 club teams with 2,000 child players have registered with the Beijing Hockey Association since 2012.
As Beijing aims to involve 300 million Chinese people in winter sports as a proposed legacy for its 2022 bid, Zhao said, more snow events should be introduced to China, where demand for outdoor winter recreation is soaring.
“We will allocate the money and take preferential measures to help develop those minor sports and to build teams we didn’t have before. Hopefully, we could develop a balanced and versatile winter sports legion,” he said.
The winter sports administrative center has formed a national luge training team with 100 reserve athletes, and hired an experienced coach from Liechtenstein to help train the 10 best athletes from the squad, center officials said.