Great leap forward in winter sports and venues#China Newsweek#-Sino-US

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Great leap forward in winter sports and venues

The four-day World Winter Sports (Beijing) Expo kicked off at the China National Convention Center in Beijing on September 19 for the third consecutive year, attracting 150,000 visitors.

Beijing won the right to hold the Winter Olympics 2022 in 2015, and since then authorities have seen it as an opportunity to promote winter sports in the country, with companies also joining in to benefit from a developed winter sports industry.

While China aims to become a powerhouse in ice and snow, a large winter sports population is needed and the venues are also necessary to support the winter sports enthusiasm.

In the 35th issue of 2018, the China Newsweek magazine ran a cover story on the winter sports population, taking ice hockey as an example and the construction of rinks, with a detailed analysis of the sports and venues.

Below is an excerpt of the article.

Dong Liang, a retired athlete from the national ice hockey team, is now a trainer at Hongao Ice Sports Center in Beijing.

He said that when he took the trainer job in 2009, there were only a few trainees, and he could rest for half a day. But now, his lesson schedule is full every day from Monday to Sunday.

Dong graduated from Qiqihar Ermalu Primary School in Northeast China’s Heilongjiang province, which specializes in ice hockey. He boasted that in the past, 80 percent of the national team players were from the school.

But a team from the school recently lost to the team trained by Dong in Beijing. While hailing the victory, Dong also felt sad. “The ice hockey has developed rapidly in Beijing, and Northeast China has been left behind.”

The change has been brought about by government support policies, companies’ engagement and parents’ enthusiasm.

Beijing gained the right to host the Winter Olympics 2022 in 2015, and later in March, the city issued the guidelines on the ice and snow sports between 2016 and 2022, setting the goal of “making ice hockey a symbol of the city.”

In 2017, Beijing chose first batch of 52 schools featuring ice and snow sports, and there are 100 such schools now. Some of these schools have made a clear policy to enroll students for ice hockey major.

According to the Beijing education authorities, the tests for middle school students to enter high schools will add ice and snow sports, including ice hockey, figure skating, speed skating, skiing and curling.

In the past, the children learning ice hockey had to go abroad after graduation from primary school if they wanted to continue their hobby, or they had to drop it due to the heavy study load in China.

Beijing had no ice hockey team under 14 years old in the past, but the new policy has inspired lots of children to learn the sport. In early 2018, Beijing had more than 3,600 registered ice hockey players, 10 U14 teams and about 50 U12 teams.

Besides Beijing, ice hockey has developed fast throughout China. The number of registered ice hockey players increased from 2,000 in 2015 to 12,000 in 2017. At present, more than 30 cities have their own ice hockey teams.

Compared with Canada, a powerhouse of ice hockey, the spending for children to learn the sport is too high in China, according to Zhao Zhuoran, who has two children learning ice hockey.

In Canadian communities, many parents with ice hockey knowledge offer free training, and a child has to spend about 1,000 yuan for taking part in a tournament in the winter, Zhao said.

But in China, “ice hockey is a commercial sport” and only higher-income families could afford the spending since the equipment, training and venue fees adds to at least 100,000 yuan a year and even up to half a million yuan, he said.

Progress in venues

International experience shows when a country’s per capita GDP reaches $5,000, people will engage in sports, and per capita GDP reaching $8,000, the sports industry will become a pillar of the economy, but only when the per capita GDP reaches $10,000, ice and snow sports will fully develop.

By 2011, China’s per capita GDP exceeded $5,000, and in 2017, per capital GDP reached $8,800, approaching the threshold for the fast development of ice and snow sports.

In 2003, China had 21 indoor rinks, in 2011, there were 59, and the figure reached 188 by 2016. The rapid development of ice venues across the country is linked with the economic development.

Beijing Winter Olympics 2022 has provided a big boost to the development of the industry. To fulfill its promise of having 300 million people participate in ice and snow sports as part of the bid to win the hosting right, the government has issued a series of support measures.

The plan for ice and snow venues (2016-2022) has set the goal for 2022 to have more than 650 skating gymnasiums across the country, with no less than 500 being newly built.

Beijing’s guidelines in March 2016 said the city will have at least 36 indoor rinks by 2022, and each district will have at least one new venue of more than 1,800 square meters.

Industry insiders can see the rapid growth of rinks. Yang Yifang, deputy head of the Chinese Association of Refrigeration, said that in the past, companies worked more on the refrigerated rooms and air conditioning, but in recent two years, there were more inquiries about rinks.

Fan Jun, founder of the Beijing Century Star skating club, said that the whole country has seen a rapid development of rinks, but Beijing has recorded an explosive growth.

According to statistics from Ji Junfeng, a former sports official, Beijing now has 66 ice venues, about half of them meeting the Olympic standard of 1,800 square meters. The Chaoyang district has seven venues, four of which were built within last three years.

In the past, Beijing’s indoor ice venues were mainly located in Chaoyang and Haidian districts, and Shijingshan district had no venue, but the Beijing Organizing Committee for the 2022 Olympic and Paralympics Winter Games is based in the district, and it expects to build 10 venues by 2020.

The Shijingshan ice and snow center is one of the newly built venues, and it has an air-supported structure.

Song Kegang, executive vice president of Tus-Ice & Snow Group, the developer of the center, said that using such a structure is related to cost concerns and the long procedure of acquiring a piece of land.

According to the current regulations, the air-supported structure is not even deemed to be a building, but only a ground attachment, and thus it was built on a piece of green land in Shijingshan.

The Shijingshan district has offered help in terms of urban management, forestation, safety and fire control in building the center, Song said.

He said his company is a state-owned company, but it got the project more because of the big strategy of having “300 million people to do ice and snow sports.”

To fulfill the goal, there should be venues, and the company fits into this strategy. Song’s company has also plans to build 100 ice venues within three years.

Similar to Tus-Ice & Snow Group, Beijing Iceworld Sport also has plans to build 100 ice venues by 2022. Olympjoy Ice & Snow Sports Tourism claimed that it will build 1,000 removable ice venues across the country within 10 years.

While the country’s ice venues have grown rapidly, there is a shortage of technicians and other personnel. Deng Gang, a technician from the General Administration of Sport, said that the country lacks experienced personnel to manage venues.

As for the equipment, a lot of it needs to be imported, such as ice sweeping cars and even the watering cups for curling fields.

A sports official who declined to be named said that there are too many people involved who don’t understand the industry, and in order to cut the cost, some venues were built without following the standards.

Tong Wei, an industry insider, said some operators are trying to save money from the rinks. For example, the ice should be five centimeters thick, but they keep the ice at three centimeters, and the temperature is not low enough.

In the past, China’s venues mainly used ammonia in cooling systems, and later Freon. Due to safety concerns, almost all venues in China use the fluorine refrigerants. Now, some new venues have also started to use HFC.

However, HFC is a contributor to greenhouse, and the international community reached an agreement in 2016 to gradually eliminate the use of HFC. China has pledged to cut the use of HFC by 2029.

Yang Yifang said that existing refrigerants have their shortcomings, and a better way is to innovate a new environment-friendly, safe and efficient one for the country’s Olympic venues, but Chinese companies don’t have the ability to develop one.

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