Ice hockey gains popularity among young Chinese ahead of Beijing 2022
As China prepares for the 2022 Beijing Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games, people are learning about and taking part in winter sports. In the capital city of Beijing, ice hockey is becoming increasingly popular among children and teenagers.
A decade ago, people in Beijing were not familiar with the sport at all. One parent told CGTN that, seven years ago, when his son Zhou Jiahe started playing ice hockey, many in their neighborhood thought the equipment was for golf.
"Now they know it's hockey. Some other seven or eight kids in the community also play it," said Zhou's father.
As of the 2019/2020 season, there are more than 4,500 young ice hockey players on record in Beijing, according to Beijing Ice Hockey Association. Their age ranges from four to 18 years old.
There are altogether three ice hockey youth leagues/tournaments in Beijing, including one among schools. Besides for the school teams, there are a total of 32 ice hockey youth clubs in the city, according to the Beijing Ice Hockey Association.
Every summer, they also have a chance to be selected by the Beijing team and then can play national games and international friendlies.
The young players have a busy schedule. On average, they train two to three evenings per week, with a season of weekend games that lasts from November to late March. Some even play until June.
Younger kids who have less homework may train up to five evenings per week.
Most of them don't mind it because they like the sport or are used to a tight schedule, as some told CGTN.
The annual cost of ice hockey training and games for a child can range from 40,000 to 100,000 yuan, according to some parents.
It is generally regarded as more expensive than many other sports and hobbies. However, parents are happy to spend that type of money on their children's development.
Actually parents value opportunities that let their children play sports.
"Relatively speaking, for China, I think Beijing's education system is good in terms of balancing sports and studies… Beijing's children are lucky, because the city is better than elsewhere in terms of leagues and resources, such as coaches," said Zhou's father.
The surging popularity of ice hockey at the grass roots level is being felt most by those who are directly involved with it.
Wang Yupeng is a coach at a youth hockey club in Beijing. He was a provincial ice hockey player in northeastern China's Heilongjiang Province before coming to Beijing to coach in 2016.
In these past four years, he could tell the sport was growing.
"From my perspective, the passion for ice hockey is very high. For a long time, there wasn't much participation. Now, as it develops, enthusiasm among parents and children is growing each year."
"When my daughter started to play ice hockey seven years ago, there were only three or four ice rinks in Beijing. Now I can't even tell how many rinks there are", the mother of a 12-year-old girl named Zhao Hanyu told CGTN.
In fact, by 2018, there were more than 30 rinks in Beijing according to a report by The People's Daily.
In 2016, the Beijing municipal government released a seven-year plan to develop winter sports. Ice hockey is one of the targeted sports.
The aim is to build Beijing as a base for ice hockey and now it seems that besides government policy, the sport has been welcomed by some of the public.
For young players, the sport may also mean more than a hobby.
"I hope I'll be able to play in the NHL and make my country proud of me," Zhou Jiahe said. He plays at an ice hockey club and also for the Beijing team.
And Zhao Hanyu already goes to the U.S. twice a year to train at a girl's club there. In the future, she plans to study at an American high school and play college hockey at a university there.
With three years to go until Beijing 2022, ice hockey's prospects in Beijing seem very positive.