Sports / China

Ice hockey gains younger players

By Sun Xiaochen (China Daily) Updated: 2015-05-29 07:49

Thanks to the promotion of winter sports inspired by Beijing's bid for the 2022 Winter Olympics, youth participation in ice hockey has soared in recent years and the boom bodes well for the future of the niche sport.

China has never been a world power in ice hockey, a sport dominated by North American and European forces, but audience enthusiasm at the recent Women's World Championship Division I Group B tournament in Beijing was similar to that at a National Hockey League game in the United States.

At the tournament held at Beijing's Capital Indoor Gymnasium, excited screams and cheers from supporters thrilled the stadium while hundreds of children in full ice hockey outfits stole the limelight with their loud chants for the host team.

Chinese national captain Sun Rui, who led China to finish third at the International Ice Hockey Federation tournament, said she was impressed by the warm response her low-profile team enjoyed.

"I was gratified that such a big audience was here to cheer for us," said the 33-year-old. "I could see hope for the sport in China. We are not alone."

In contrast to the sport's niche status at professional level in China, its huge popularity among the children of well-off families in Beijing has become a phenomenon.

"I like playing ice hockey because it is fun and it looks so cool," 10-year-old Wen Bocheng said from the sidelines of the championships.

Despite receiving occasional bruises, Wen joins more than 20 other youngsters from Tsinghua University Primary School three times a week to train at Dreamport Mall in north Beijing, and he also plays a full-contact game each week.

Wen Quan, his father, said, "In the beginning, we were kind of worried about the frequent body checks, but watching him working hard at something he loves at a young age, learning discipline and teamwork, there's really nothing you can do but support him."

Wen Bocheng and his hardworking schoolmates are among 2,000 children from 96 junior club teams registered with the Beijing Ice Hockey Association's Minor Hockey Premier League. They play through the winter and spring.

Thanks to Beijing's 2022 bid, more commercial rinks suitable for ice hockey training have opened to the public at affordable prices, while a growing number of families have adopted the sport.

"Given that students lack outdoor exercise in winter and are under intense pressure academically, it's a great boost to physical education on campus," said Huang Kan, commissioner of the Beijing Municipal Education Commission. "Playing team sports such as hockey helps build character and improves the students' physical health."

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