Showcasing China’s ice-cool recovery
The international sports community has heaped praise on China’s efforts to revive winter sports at an ongoing industry expo in Beijing. With ice and snow sports hit hard earlier this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic, China has quickly shifted into recovery mode, highlighted by the feast of ice and snow attractions on offer at the World Winter Sports (Beijing) Expo 2020, where preparations for the 2022 Olympics feature prominently.
“Because of the unprecedented global coronavirus pandemic, we are all living with much uncertainty,” Thomas Bach, president of the International Olympic Committee, said in a video speech during the expo’s opening session on Saturday. “This is why this year’s World Winter Sports Expo comes at an important time. Holding the expo in the Olympic city of Beijing sends a strong signal of confidence. By bringing together the winter sports industry under the theme of the Power of Ice and Snow, the expo is the perfect platform to highlight this important contribution of sports to the recovery. The expo is also an important step as China gets ready to welcome the world’s best winter sports athletes in 2022.”
Because of the pandemic, video conference exhibits and virtual reality tools feature heavily at this year’s expo, which runs through Wednesday at the China National Convention Center, where the latest products, technologies and services of 500 brands from more than 20 countries and regions are on display. Despite only accepting preregistered visitors that can show a health QR code, the expo’s offline area has still attracted big crowds, who can enjoy artificial rinks, dry-surface skiing simulators, figure skating performances by elite athletes and VR resort tours across an area of 16,000 square meters.
Initiated in 2016 by the Beijing Olympic City Development Association (BOCDA) and International Data Group, the annual expo has developed into a world-class exchange of international expertise, with over 260 industry professionals sharing insights on topics such as Olympic city development, resort operation, venue management and winter sports education at 20 parallel forums. With China aiming to develop a winter sports market worth 1 trillion yuan ($146 billion) by 2025, drawing on the know-how of major international players leading up to the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics will be key, said organizers. “As a beginner in winter sports, China is in desperate need of proven practice in developing the industry sustainably beyond 2022,” said Gao Yunchao, deputy secretary-general of BOCDA. I am sure the panel discussions and speeches shared by world leaders will give us a lot of insight.”
Despite the promising outlook now, the coronavirus outbreak hit China’s winter sports businesses hard－especially the skiing sector. All major resorts were forced to shut down in peak season while the first scheduled test event for Beijing 2022－an International Ski Federation Alpine World Cup in February－was canceled. Although almost no major international events are allowed to resume in China for the remainder of this year due to the government’s stringent virus-control policy, international winter sports leaders remain confident that the action will be back up and running in China for the 2020-21 season.
“Thanks to the responsible attitude, the decisive and effective prevention and control measures, China has effectively managed the pandemic in a short period of time, and created a good social environment for the entire population, for the development of China’s economy, and for tourism recovery,” FIS secretary-general Sarah Lewis said in an online speech. The successful convening of the expo will be the catalyst for the start of an excellent 2021 season, which is in front of us, and FIS very much looks forward to our exciting program of activities which are coming up.”
A traditional powerhouse in skating events, China is looking to the West for help to develop facilities, train coaches and adopt elite training methods to make up for its weakness in snow sports. Leveraging resources through its Get Into Snow Sports (GISS) grassroots promotion program, the FIS is on a mission to help Chinese athletes qualify for all 55 skiing and snowboarding events at the Beijing Games while assisting the national plan to involve 300 million people in winter sports beyond 2022.
“The Beijing 2022 Olympic Winter Games can provide a historic opportunity to develop winter sports in the country,” said Lewis. “Such an outcome would create a really extensive winter sports industry in China and develop a base for many top athletes and for competitions to take place.”