BEIJING, Jan. 15 (Xinhua) -- With China set to host the next Winter Olympic Games, in 2022, the country has seen a rise in the popularity of ice hockey, especially in Olympic host city Beijing.
There are now more than 2,10000 children playing ice hockey in the Chinese capital, it was revealed on Tuesday.
"2,554 young players from 162 teams participated in the Beijing Junior Ice Hockey League last year," Sun Xuecai, formerly the head of Beijing Municipal Sports Bureau, told reporters.
"Ice hockey is gaining popularity in Beijing."
Since being awarded the 2022 Winter Games, a series of changes have been made in Beijing, with winter sports being added to course curriculums in over 1000 of the city's primary and middle schools.
"By 2022, about eight million Beijing citizens are expected to be involved in winter sports," added Sun.
In May 2018, the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) decided to grant the Chinese men's and women's national hockey teams direct qualification for the 2022 Winter Olympics, which was only the second exception to the tradition of the host country having to earn its place via qualifying matches. The first exception was for South Korea at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang.
In a bid to enhance its competitiveness at the highest level, China has reached out for support to overseas players of Chinese origin and other organizations.
In men's ice hockey, the Chinese team Kunlun Red Star competes in the Russia-based Kontinental Hockey League.
The country also has two teams in Russia's second-tier Supreme Hockey League and a team in Russia's Junior Hockey League.
On the women's side, Kunlun Red Star and a second Chinese team played in the Canadian Women's Hockey League last season, and China also sent girls' teams to compete in the United States.