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Chinese Ice Hockey Plunged into Crisis
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After five defeats from as many games at the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) Division I tournament, China was relegated.

Chinese ice hockey has plunged to a new crisis after the tournament on Saturday. That's the common response from Chinese insiders on the sport.

Lan Li, the deputy director of winter sports center in State General Administration of Sport, said ice hockey has already been a forgotten sport in China.

"The reason behind the poor results is that ice hockey is forgotten in China," he said.

It's not only for the men's sport, but also for the women's.

China set a goal at winning the women's title in the sixth Winter Asian Games last February, but they ended up with a third place. The men's team finished fourth after Japan, Kazakhstan and South Korea.

Chinese national team head coach Xiang Shuqing said there are three problems facing the country's ice hockey.

"Firstly, China can not get sustainable supply of backup players; Secondly, few teenagers like to be a professional player for the lack of financial guarantee after retirement; Thirdly, professional players can not earn enough money to maintain a decent life, so the sport is losing its appeal among youngsters."

Chinese ice hockey enjoyed its best time in the 1980s but it lasted only a very short time. Jilin province, where ice hockey used to be one of the most popular sports, disbanded its provincial team in 1997.

The same thing is true for the neighbouring Heilongjiang province. During its heyday, there were ten men's and women's ice hockey teams. Now only one left for women and three for men.

"In China, football is the No. sport. It takes away everything, money and fans, although Chinese football failed to achieve any good results. But no one spares any care on ice hockey," a journalist commented at the tournament.

"China is the most populous country, but there are only 200 professional players in total. How could you count on such a small number of people to achieve good results?" said Xiang.

"We have a good foundation in ice hockey in Poland. We set up tiers of training program in line with the players' ages, so we can get persistent backup in national team," Polish coach Rudolf Rohacek said after they defeated Kazakhstan.

A French journalist revealed ice hockey is very popular in the Alpes land, especially in Lyon and Grenoble within France. There is a professional ice hockey league named Ligue Moquus in his country and a few players in French team is playing the NHL in North America.

France finished first in the group to advance to the World Championship, while Poland edged out Kazakhstan to book the second place in the overall rankings.
 
(Xinhua News Agency April 23, 2007)

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