China’s Ice Revolution
China is on the verge of a revolution in ice sport and it can give lessions to us all. China may not be the first country you think of when you think of winter sports but it will be soon on the list with Canada, Austria, USA, France, Italy and Norway when the 2022 Olympics arrive in Beijing. Ahead of that the Chinese Government is showing what invest in winter sport can do across a country even away from the mountains.
The goal of President Xi is to have 300 million people on ice in time for the games and the government has invested in putting ice rinks where people go. This meant put rinks everywhere, such as the popular beach resort of Sanya Yalongwan, to make the idea of an ice rink unmissable. In terms of more formal training the government has invested in making areas more specialist. Beijing, with its KHL side, is the centre for ice hockey resulting in moves forward for its national programmes. The mens team hasn’t quite made its return to the lofty heights of 15th in the world and an Asian games gold medal as seen in the 1980’s yet but did play in Division 2 Group A for the first time since 2009 in this years World Championships.
It is a sign of what can be achieved with ambition and government backing. If something similar could be introduced in the UK the effect could be massive. We could have a country taking part in ice sports and the idea of an ice rink would not be exotic or unusual but the norm just like a swimming bath. It will take something like the Chinese project to achieve this with year round exposure to ice rinks not just around Christmas time.
Critics will point to money but China too is feeling the squeeze on its finances but is supporting this push with rent free areas such as public squares and parks being used for its pop up rinks. At a time when the government is pushing health living and exercise as it wants to slash the NHS budget isn’t this a way of reducing costs and getting people on ice. The knock effect of which is that interest in ice sports and ice hockey will grow with new fans of the sport which leads to new players and a cycle of growth.
Technology too has developed to allow ice rinks to build and used all year round not just in the winter whether they are indoor or outdoor. With pop up buildings too there are no reason why a rink cant be built anywhere anymore.
It is very worrying to hear of the struggles at the Ryde Ice Arena again. The Isle of Wight is a place where ice sports has flourished with the Raiders being one of the top NIHL South outfits despite obvious logistical problems but it is also home to some of the top ice dance teams in the country.
It is time for the government and local authorities to open their eyes to winter sport and realise you do not need high mountains and skis to be a national of winter sport enthusiasts, you just need a sheet of ice anywhere.