Does Ice Hockey Have A Future In China?

Slovakian Businessman Has “Master Plan” For Sport’s Development In China

Though more people are becoming interested in ice hockey in China, it remains very much a niche sport there (Image: CCTV)

Though more people are becoming interested in ice hockey in China, it remains very much a niche sport there (Image: CCTV)

Following the popularization of basketball in China, both professional and amateur, over the past few decades — finally culminating in the formation of NBA China in 2008 — businesspeople and representatives from virtually every other sport on the globe have looked to China as a vast potential market. While some elite sports, such as golf, have proven exceptionally popular among China’s upper class, and polo has a minuscule but devoted fanbase, other sports like baseball have struggled to find a market. (Despite huge investment in China on the part of America’s MLB over the past decade.)

Today, Xinhua looks at the prospects for another sport in China, ice hockey, reporting that a Slovak businessman, Martin Benko, plans to travel to the country next year with a group of “European experts” to develop a master plan for the development of ice hockey there. According to Benko, since China already has hockey clubs in Beijing and Shanghai, it has the potential to be “a very good sport there.” From Xinhua:

Ice hockey should be attractive to younger people in China because it is a pacy [sic] contact sport, argued Benko, a former ice hockey and tennis star in his home nation.

“It is also good business,” he said. “The rinks could be used by the public for entertainment,” he added.

Benko said that he had already sought information on setting up leagues from Russia and Canada, which have thriving privately run competitions, and that he is preparing case studies to take to existing clubs.

He added that China has shown evidence of growing sports development including infrastructure and training that went beyond the efforts made for the Beijing Olympics in 2008.

So what are the chances that ice hockey could catch on beyond its current demographic of the children of the urban wealthy, or the occasional group of expatriates, in China? At the moment, it looks like Benko and his group of European experts have their work cut out for them. As the MLB has found in China, foreign sports that involve a great deal of specialized equipment are a very hard sell, even among wealthier families. Also, ice hockey’s development in China will be beset by a dearth of devoted venues, few trained coaches, and low levels of interest in and awareness of the sport. While the sport should continue to catch on in a muted way in major urban centers, it’s unlikely that Chinese youths will soon turn away from the NBA or soccer superstars they currently idolize, particularly when virtually all they need to play these sports is a group of friends and a ball.

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