National team skipper Wang Binyu aims the stone during an exhibition match between the China national team and the Yichun side in the Lindu Yichun Cup National Curling Challenge tournament in Yichun, Heilongjiang province, on Saturday. Looking on are teammates Yue Qingshuang (right) and Zhou Yan. The national team won 5-3. Photo provided to China Daily
Yichun to become base for the sport in a bold strategy
BEIJING - In most cases, the success of a sport is based on the number of people taking part. Take table tennis and badminton for example.
But it's not always the case. Soccer is a poor example. Millions of people play the world's most popular game here, but the sport remains weak. The national team failed to score a goal in its only World Cup qualification in 2002, and in its only two Olympic qualifications, in 1988 and in 2008 as a host, it scored only once (2008) and failed to get past the group stage both times.
A better example is curling. There are no more than 60 registered people playing the game professionally in China, compared to 1 million in Canada, the Olympic champion. But the Chinese women's team won the World Championship title in 2009 and a surprising bronze at the Vancouver Winter Olympic Games last year.
Though no one can guarantee more people taking part in the sport mean a substantial upgrading of the game in China, the fact is that the success has won more attention from the government and the game is gaining in popularity.
Last Saturday, the Lindu Yichun Cup National Curling Challenge tournament ended in Yichun, a city known for its forests, in northeastern Heilongjiang province.
The three-leg competition in the Bird's Nest in Beijing, in Harbin and Yichun, attracted, probably the only 10 teams. Harbin and Yichun won the men's and women's sections respectively. And in the following exhibition games against national teams, the Harbin side stunned the national team 7-3 while the full strength Olympic bronze medal-winning women's team, comprising Wang Binyu, Liu Yin, Yue Qingshuang and Zhou Yan, saved face for its male counterparts by beating Yichun 5-3.
China has no more than 10 standard curling lanes, and Yichun only built two temporary lanes for the tournament with seats for the audience, but Zhao Yingang, director of the Winter Sports Administrative Center of the State General Administration of Sport, was upbeat after watching the competition, saying the sport is on the right development track.
He said the level of play had made obvious progress since the establishment of the national teams in 2003.
"We have achieved noticeable results in major international competitions during the past seven years," Zhao said. "From this challenge tournament, I can see curling is on way up in China. There are more people playing the game, and more teams and more events. Such a tournament not only provides competition but also helps popularize curling in China."
Meanwhile, Yichun Mayor Wang Aiwen told China Daily the city is embarking on a mission to make it the Chinese capital of curling.
"We want to make our city a training base for the national curling teams and also make curling a daily sports exercise for the local citizens," Wang said, adding the city also wants to popularize curling among tourists who come to Yichun.
The city aims to build at least three indoor facilities for curling through government funding and business investment and to promote the game among local primary and high school students.
"I am confident that in three to five years most of the students will be able to play curling in Yichun," the mayor said.
"Definitely, the strategy is good for the sport and for the city as well," Zhao said. "The city is wise in promoting tourism through developing curling. Not only will more people take to the sport, but there will be more competitions for the athletes."
Zhao said his center fully supports the idea of making Yichun the capital of curling.
"We are considering setting up our training base there and giving personnel training and organizational support to the city," Zhao said.
(China Daily 01/25/2011 page23)