Almost every Sunday night, ice hockey matches are in full swing at Chaoyang Road Skating Centre. Most players are foreigners working or studying in Beijing, and they take part in the Beijing International Ice Hockey Tournament. Although matches are played for fun and exercise, the competition is fierce.
Ray Plummer, from Canada, is one of the organizers. He introduces the players.
"Everything from teachers to construction managers, to Nokia engineers, some embassy people, some chefs, hotel managers, entrepreneurs, lawyers, lots of students, took a cross section of expatriate society."
Plummer has been in Beijing for more than ten years, working as an architect. He says their ice hockey has a 20-year history in Beijing. When they started in 1990 there were only two teams, but as more joined, it grew to five teams and nearly one hundred players. Four years ago, they established the Beijing International Ice Hockey Tournament.
Even though it's an amateur league, the tournament system is formal. From September to May, every team plays 25 base matches and any extra matches in the lead up to the final. The player with the best performance is selected as 'Most Valuable Player' for the year.
Plummer tells more about the system.
"We have the players come in for training, to play one game, or come over for practice. We want to see if they are good players or not. If they are very good players, we will place them carefully so no team is too strong or too weak. The goal is to have five even-strength teams and a lot of fun on the weekends."
In the past, players traveled to other cities like Harbin, Qiqihar, Shanghai, Dalian, and Kunming, to play friendly matches. Their opponents had to be local foreign teams or professional clubs. They also traveled to Korea and Thailand in October for matches.
Despite their different backgrounds, the love of ice hockey connects them all. The tournament is non-profit, and every player donates 2,500 yuan, or about 350 US dollars, every year to pay for rent, equipment, and refreshments. To cut expenses, many players volunteer to be referees when they are not on the field.
Olivier Rochefort from Montreal, Canada, works as a hotel manager in Beijing. He is a regular after he learnt about it from a friend. Every time he is on the field, his father Pierre shows up in support.
"It's amazing. Because not only do they have their jobs, but it takes us almost an hour to come here to play for only one hour. We all have to get back to work on Monday morning. It's the love of the game. It's really the love of the game I think."
(CRI December 26, 2008)