A Bad Hockey Team Complicates China’s Rise to Superpower Status

While Simon thought China might choose to skip the hockey rather than “get destroyed,” Curt Dracz, who runs a sports and entertainment company in Beijing, thought the scores might not be overly lopsided as teams facing China would want to avoid rubbing it in.

When Beijing was first awarded the Winter Games in 2015, China seemed more interested in building a competitive hockey team. In early 2016, Russian President Vladimir Putin agreed to set up an ice-hockey team in the capital, to play in the Russian professional league. The Kunlun Red Star, as the team was called, was supposed to attract world-class talent and develop local players. After several management and coaching changes, the team is currently last in the Kontinental Hockey League’s 12-team East Division.

The national team hasn’t done much better. At the last World Championships in 2019, it competed in the second division, meaning China didn’t face the powers of the sport such as the U.S., Canada and Russia. Instead, it went on to lose to Australia, Spain, Serbia and Croatia in close contests, before defeating Belgium in its final match. Two years earlier at the Asian winter games, against stiffer competition, Team China failed to score in its three matches, getting walloped by Japan 14-0, South Korea 10-0, and Kazakhstan 8-0.

The China Ice Hockey Association, which oversees the national team, declined to comment and asked that queries be forwarded to the Winter Sports Center. The General Administration of Sport, which manages the center, didn’t respond to requests for comment.

Hosting the Olympic though, is also about business. President Xi Jinping has said the Winter Games are an opportunity to promote the country’s nascent ski industry and other snow sports. According to Beijing-based Daxue Consulting, the government hopes to turn 300 million people into active winter sports enthusiasts by 2025 and grow the value of the industry to 1 trillion yuan ($155 billion). China hopes to have at least 650 skating venues, including 500 new ones, 800 ski resorts and 3,500 kilometers of ski track by the time of the games, it said.

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