“I came to China to see the Great Wall, to see hockey and eat insects,” Jolyn Tardio an LA Kings season-ticket holder jokingly told the Globe and Mail. Though not about the middle part: she was in Shanghai late last month to watch a series of matches being played in China by NHL teams, the Kings and the Vancouver Canucks.
The newspaper noted that while the stadium in Shanghai was only half-full, enthusiasm levels were high. A 27 year-old legal adviser named Wei was enthralled by the rough and tumble of the pacy, top-flight hockey. “Even if it involves some attacking and bodily harm, the experience of that excitement and the vibe of the live game is so unique,” she commented. The Kings won that game 5-2, but the match was closer a few days later in Beijing where the contest finished overtime tied at 3-3 and ended in a shootout (which the Kings again won). This time the LA Times was on hand to witness the slapshot action and saw a crowd of 13,000 munch popcorn and cheer at the spectacle.
CCTV now broadcasts four games a week from the North American league (whose 2017-18 season started on Wednesday) and the LA Times noted that the NHL’s entry into China comes at an “auspicious time”. That’s because China will host the 2022 Winter Olympics and its leader Xi Jinping has announced a plan to get 300 million Chinese involved in winter sports. Ice hockey is one of the sports being encouraged, as China seeks to boost its potential medal count at the 2022 games.
As the LA Times points out Chinese athletes won just nine medals at the 2014 Winter Olympiad, versus 70 at the 2016 Summer Olympics.
Of course, ice hockey is starting from a low base in China, with only around 3,000 kids playing it regularly in the Chinese capital. But participation is rapidly growing. As we pointed out in WiC379, ice hockey has been identified by affluent parents as an ‘elitist’ sport that might help their kids get into good schools. As one Beijing mother told China Daily: “We can’t deny that to play hockey in China, you have to be economically well-off. You can play soccer or basketball anywhere and wear anything you like, but you have to be well equipped for hockey.”
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