China’s preparations for the 2022 Winter Games topped the agenda at Chinese President Xi Jinping’s meeting with Olympic chief Thomas Bach on Wednesday in Lausanne, Switzerland.
According to Global Times, Xi will become the first Chinese president to visit the headquarters of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), one and half years after the IOC selected Beijing to host the 2022 Winter Games.
China is boosting its winter sports development, not only in its traditional northern area but also in several southern cities – where snow is rare – through indoor activities. The country aims to have 300 million winter sports enthusiasts by 2022.
He Wenyi, executive director of Peking University’s China Institute for Sports Value, told the Global Times that the ultimate goal of popularizing winter sports goes beyond the 2022 Games.
“Popularizing winter sports in China is the foundation of a stronger performance at future Winter Olympics,” He said. “It’s not only for competitive sports but also for public health.”
“Besides excellent Chinese athletes, Chinese officials also help promote Olympism throughout the world,” said Zhang Xiuping, executive committee member of the Association of Olympic Journalists.
China currently has three IOC members. Besides Yu Zaiqing, serving as IOC vice-president since 2008, China’s former short track speed skating Olympic gold medalist Yang Yang and former world badminton champion Li Lingwei are IOC members.
China’s Winter Games performance is a far cry from its achievements in Summer Games, winning only 12 golds in four out of 15 current Winter Olympic sports since 1980. But winter sports in China are gaining in popularity.
According to data released to the Global Times, in Chongli, the county in Zhangjiakou, North China’s Hebei Province, where most of the ski events of the 2022 Games will be held, the number of winter season tourists surged from 1.01 million from the 2012-13 season to 1.78 million in the 2015-16 season.
A high-speed railway line connecting Beijing and Zhangjiakou is expected to be completed by 2019, which could shorten travel time from four hours to one, and this is expected to attract more skiers.
Li Yan, the woman at the helm of China’s short track speed skating team since 2006, said she believes the sport’s popularity rests on mass support.
In 2016, China organized its first professional ice hockey team, Beijing-based Kunlun Red Star, which plays in the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL), Eurasia’s premier ice hockey league.
Chinese sports authorities are also working with education officials to promote sports in schools around the country. Inspired by China’s strong presence at the Summer Games, a growing number of young people have started to engage in winter sports.
Initiated by soccer-fan President Xi, China began reforming its soccer program in March 2015, when the State Council issued a 50-point reform project to promote soccer in the world’s most populous country.
All primary and high schools in China are required to hold soccer classes, according to the reform project.
Schools in Beijing are also developing winter sports classes like skiing and skating.
Beijing is committed to limiting its expenses for the 2022 Winter Olympics, with an estimated budget of $3.07 billion, far less than the recent Winter Games. Russia’s Sochi 2014 cost $50 billion and South Korea has set a $12 billion budget for Pyeongchang 2018.
Half of Beijing’s budget will go to infrastructure, with the 2022 host city only constructing two new venues.
The national winter sports body has begun warming up for the 2022 Games, with the Capital Indoor Stadium, one of the 2022 Games venues, set to host the women’s curling world championships in March.
Genting Resort in Chongli is set to host the FIS freestyle and snowboard world championships in 2021, one year ahead of the Winter Olympics.