The International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) has taken the decision to allow home nation China to enter a men’s and a women’s team at the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic Games.
Like in the case of South Korea for the recent Pyeongchang 2018 Olympics, China, as the hosts, will not have to go through the qualification process and will receive an automatic entry.
More details on the qualification process are due to be announced at a later stage.
The men’s ice hockey tournament is planned with 12 teams as until now, while for the women’s ice hockey tournament discussions are going on between the IIHF, the International Olympic Committee and Beijing 2022 to extend from eight to 10 teams.
In 2019, the IIHF Women’s World Championship will be played with 10 teams for the first time.
Since being awarded the 2022 Olympics, promising changes have been made in China.
The hockey programme has gone through restructuring with an ice hockey federation that is separate from the ice sports centre and is now headed by Cao Weidong.
China has also reached out for support both to players of Chinese origin abroad and other organisations.
In men’s ice hockey, China has a club team, Kunlun Red Star, which 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.
It is thought the changes will be very welcome to make the Chinese teams more competitive.
The men’s team is ranked 33rd in the world and the women’s team 20th.
While the men’s team has never played in a top-level event, the women’s team has a history in elite ice hockey.
China finished fourth in the first Olympic women’s ice hockey tournament at Nagano 1998 and also participated at Salt Lake City 2002 and Vancouver 2010.
Furthermore, the country played in every edition of the IIHF Women’s World Championship from 1992 and 2009, reaching fourth place in 1994 and 1997, and hosted the 2008 event in Harbin.
In another attempt to boost China’s talent pool, the Xinhe International Youth Ice Hockey Open, which evolved from the Asian Youth Ice Hockey League last year, was unveiled by Sina Sports last month.
According to China Daily, Wei Jianglei, senior vice-president of Sina Group and general manager of Sina Sports, said the under-15 age group will be added to the under-six, under-eight and under-12 groups in the Open to give high school students-to-be a platform to seek a better further education, both in the sport and their studies.
The Open is being held from May to July in five cities nationwide.
It is gathering together more than 3,000 young players.
Despite all the optimism, China Daily reported last month that embarrassing events at China's highest-level domestic hockey tournament "exposed weaknesses in management and player development".
The National Ice Hockey Championships saw one team, made up of converted roller skaters, lose by an astonishing scoreline of 60-0.
Another team lined up with just one substitute on the bench, an additional goaltender.
A typical side would have around 14 substitutes.