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Harbin Winter Universiade Cold-shouldered by Chinese

2009 Harbin Winter UniversiadeOf  about 25 friends we talked to yesterday, three Canadians included, only one person actually knew that the Harbin Winter Universiade was coming.

“I won’t watch any of the games, as I don’t play those sports,” said Liu Hongchao, a 25-year-old university graduate who plays football in his free time. “No one here even watches Universiade, let alone the winter games.” Liu’s view is probably shared by many Chinese sports editors, as we couldn’t find coverage of the Winter Universiade on the front covers of all the sports publications and the Internet portals in the country so far. Winter sports seem too far away from most of Chinese people.

“We’re aware of this situation,” Lan Li, the deputy director of Chinese Winter Sports Federation told China Sports Review. “Objectively speaking, winter sports can only be found in some areas in the country. Its media awareness can’t compare with summer sports right now, and we’re not expecting to make a splash by hosting this Winter Universiade. You really have to do this step by step, cultivating the interests of University students is a good start. Things would go a lot more faster if we have some star players like Yao Ming in Basketball.”

After the opening ceremony last night on Feb 18, China defeated Slovak by 5 – 3 in the first ever women’s ice hockey match in Winter Universiade, as the sport was made a compulsory program this year by the International University Sports Federation. “We didn’t have a dream start and made some mistakes in the first period, but players did fight well later and that’s why we won,” said Paul Strople, head coach of the Chinese women team.

“The 18 ice hockey players are the cream of the crop in China. To tell you the truth, we only have about 50 women ice hockey players in the country. People feel weird when we rejected invitations of some overseas youth tournaments. We just don’t have enough players to send there,” Lan confessed. “We built two stadiums in universities in Harbin this time, hopefully more and more students would be interested in winter sports and start playing some games.”

The 2009 World Winter Universiade takes place from Feb. 18 to 28 in Harbin, the capital city of China’s Heilongjiang Province, with events also scheduled in Maorshan and Yabuli.The games will feature over 82 disciplines encompassed in the following 12 sports: Alpine Skiing, Biathlon, Cross Country Skiing, Curling, Figure Skating, Freestyle Skiing, Ice Hockey, Long Track Speed Skating, Nordic Combined, Short Track Speed Skating, Ski Jumping and Snowboarding. According to the organizer, the total investment is about 3.1 billion RMB, roughly $ 453 million USD.

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