Sports / Hockey

Ice hockey could be China's next big thing

By Sun Xiaochen ( Updated: 2016-05-05 21:51

Ice hockey could be China's next big thing

The Hall of Famer ice hockey player Steve Shutt of the Montreal Canadiens of the National Hockey League instructs junior players during a training session at Beijing's Champion Rink on Monday. [Wei Xiaohao/China Daily]

It won't be long before China cultivates more homegrown talents like National Hockey League (NHL) prospect Song Andong.

The country has launched an integrated winter sports development plan aiming at nursing talents from a grassroots level to the elite echelon.

The upbringing of Beijing native Song, who became the first Chinese drafted to the NHL when the New York Islanders selected him last year, highlighted amateur organization's role in developing elite talents for winter sports. Song spent years playing in Beijing's junior hockey program.

President Xi Jinping called for development in winter sports as the country gets set to host 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics. China's sports governing body announced on Thursday to include social-funded organizations into a four-tier national winter sports system to better discover and develop promising talents.

The initiative is part of China's 13th five-year (2016-2020) sports development. It amplifies every aspect of the country's sports ambition in mass fitness, professional league reform and Olympics program as well as sports industry.

Liu Peng, the director of the State General Administration of Sport of China, said in the next five year, the four-tier winter sports system will channel school promotions through social organizations and municipal training programs to the highest national team level.

"We have to diversify the development of our winter sports by cultivating more talents in our relatively weak events. To integrate social-founded programs into the entire talent development system is crucial," Liu said.

Following Beijing's winning bid to host the 2022 Winter Olympics, the Chinese government has unveiled an ambitious plan to promote winter sports among 300 million people in China. It hopes to cultivate more talents for a wider range of events than its traditional strong sports like figure skating, speed skating, and freestyle skiing aerials.

New sports such as ice hockey have been thriving in popularity and competitiveness at the hands of social organizations such as the Beijing Hockey Association (BHA).

A record 116 club teams have more than 1,700 children registered with the BHA for its Beijing Minor Hockey League. The league featured only four teams with just 20 players in its inaugural 2008 season. It's the same league where Song was a hopeful junior, competing in five age groups from 6-under to 14-under.

Wang Zhili, the deputy director of China's National Winter Sports Administrative Center, said the national program will keep a close eye on young talents cultivated by the BHA.

"We will provide them with the necessary support and keep the doors of our national squads open to them," said Wang.

"To catch up with the world's best in our comparative weak events, we have to mobilize all possible resources and adopt all kinds of talent developing methods."


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