Chinese Women’s Ice Hockey Team Walking On Thin Ice
Chinese Women’s Hockey Team continued their winning streak by beating Japanese Team 2-0 in Shanghai, securing themselves a shot of playing in the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics after three straight wins over Norway, Czech Republic and Japan. Ranked 8th in the world, the team consists of 19 players all coming from Harbin, the capital of China’s northeastern Heilongjiang Province which is also known as “ice city” for its long and cold winter.
“We’re the only women’s pro team in the country,” said Wang Linuo, the skipper. “There’s only a very few amateur women’s teams, let alone pro. It’s very hard for them to play matches, as there’s almost no opponents. There’re probably less than 100 female hockey players in China now, most of them living in the northern cities like Harbin. I don’t know who’s going to catch up when we retire,” Wang continued. “It’s good that you see some people come to watch our games in Shanghai. But normally there’re less than 10 fans per game. In China, it’s like no body knows hockey and no body wants to know.”
“We’re ranked eighth in the world and I believe we have a shot at a possible medal in Vancouver,” said the Canadian head coach Paul Strople to the Chronicle-Herald. Paul has been with the team since the beginning of this year, the second time being employed as the head coach of this squad. Chinese Ice Hockey Association (CIHA), an organization under the General Administration of Sport of China, has been recruiting foreign experts like Paul as early as in 2003, an attempt to gather the tour de force needed to qualify for the Torino 2006 Winter Games. But Paul’s squad lost in the group qualifiers at the time.
In the wake of the defeat, the CIHA tried to help by other means. “A lot of our players are now playing outside the country. A couple played in Norway last year and six played in Canada. They gain more confidence by playing at different levels. Before our team had only played most of its games in China. But by playing in Canada, for instance, and being on their own for six months, they also gain life experiences as well,” noted Paul to the “Ice hockey pays you well in Canada and the US. I wish China can have professional league like their one day,” said Wang.
Playing in a pro league does mean a lot to these girls. Only six of Wang’s teammates get their paychecks every month. Others can only receive an allowance of RMB 900 (roughly $ 130 USD) per person in a best month, while most of the time playing for nothing. “Isn’t it unimaginable we’re supported by our families? People ask why we still play. We play only because we love this sport,” a player said in an interview with Xinwenhubao (新闻午报), a Shanghai-based newspaper. But their bad days would not be over soon unless the CIHA could do something. And we can’t expect another 19 girls come and play for that 900 yuan monthly allowance.
“Ice hockey was once very popular in China in the 1980s, especially in the northeastern part of the country” Wang recalled. The then Chinese ice hockey league, which had 17 teams competing for the title, was ranked the best sports league in the country at the time. Thanks to its high competitiveness, Chinese Men’s Ice Hockey Team became a dominant power in Asia. In the Ice Hockey World Championship group match in 1981, tons of fans flocked to the stadium in match days, making Chinese cops, for the first time, control traffic for sports events after China’s Open Door Policy.
Today, with the rise of Chinese middle class, more and more cities are engaging in ice hockey, especially southern China. Guangzhou opened eight ice rinks in recent two years and has 20 amateur teams. Shenzhen also has five rinks now. Shanghai, the country’s economic center, opened three new rinks in a year, where expats and Chinese amateur teams could be found playing. Aside from hosting the Olympic qualifiers for China’s Women’s Team, the city’s Songjiang Stadium (松江冰球馆) is now home to China Sharks (中国鲨鱼队), a pro ice hockey team playing in Asia League Ice Hockey, who’s sponsored by the San Jose Sharks in NHL. Beijing outruns other cities in the number of ice rinks and has now about 4,000 amateur players under the age of 12. The Beijing Cubs, a team of enthusiastic Chinese hockey boys, won the title of Boys Atom House A of Bell Capital Cup in Canada in 2007. The capital’s Wukesong Indoor Stadium, built mainly for the Beijing Olympics, will possiblely host the first NHL pre-season game in China.
But all this may not be of any quick help to all the women players. The ladies now have gotten into the same trouble as Chinese women football players did, who hardly survived all these years…or maybe much worse than that, as China does not have a hockey league and the CIHA is supposedly poorer than the Chinese Football Association.
- The Chronicle Herald:
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