Source Global Times

BEIJING, China--With the countdown ticking down to the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics coinciding with China's biggest festival, the world's second-largest economy is immersed in hearty anticipation for a robust Year of the Tiger, buoyed by its top leader's winter sports enthusiasm and a national push to build a sporting powerhouse.

The upcoming event, set to make Beijing the first city ever to host both Summer and Winter Olympics, is fueling a winter sports consumption boom, as evidenced by strong data.

More importantly, it's envisioned to propel the country's sporting spectrum - a pivotal exemplification of China's national strength and social civility at large - and muster up courage and commitment across the globe mired in a downturn, according to industry insiders, foreign diplomats and officials ready for a pandemic-resilient and global gloom-defying grand gathering of the year.

Craving for snow experiences growing

As winter sports become even more popular ahead of the Beijing Winter Olympics, at the same time as the country embraces Spring Festival, sales of Winter Games merchandise, ski and snowboard gear, among wide-ranging snow and ice experiences are all the rage.

At a brick-and-mortar flagship retailer of licensed merchandise in Wangfujing, at the heart of the capital city, a staffer surnamed Zhou told the Global Times that the flagship venue, the largest of its kind globally, has lately been flooded with visitors snapping up Spring Festival-themed Olympics items, notably those featuring festive elements such as fireworks patterns.

Patterns of the Birds' Nest stadium, where the opening ceremony will be hosted, is also among the top-selling elements, Zhou said, disclosing a daily sales revenue of up to 300,000 yuan ($47,160).

The flagship retailer was up and running on February 4, 2021, exactly one year prior to the Olympics' opening, and will run its course until around March.

Moreover, throughout the special purchases for Spring Festival on, snow and ice sports items posted a surge of 135 percent in turnover from the year before, data from the online retailer showed. In a breakdown, snow and ice equipment recorded a turnover growth of 107 percent year-on-year, while snow sports clothing booked a 99 percent rise and ski protection gear reported a 41 percent increase.

In another sign of unprecedented craving for snow and ice experiences, there have been plans among young travelers to spend multiple days, or a big part of their Spring Festival holidays, in ski resorts, according to a statement domestic online travel platform Lvmama sent to the Global Times.

The Badaling Ski Resort, about 2 kilometers on the west of the Beijing Badaling Great Wall, is among the top picks for a ski-powered Spring Festival experience.

The Winter Olympics "stokes the snow tourism fire and allows for travelers to feel the charisma of winter sports," said Zou Qingling, chief executive of Lvmama.

The grassroots-level enthusiasm apparently echoes the winter sports avidness of the country's top leader.

Chinese President Xi Jinping championed China's efforts to win the bid to host the 2022 Winter Olympics. Xi, himself a keen winter sports fan, is also encouraging hundreds of millions of Chinese to be involved in ice and snow sports.

By 2025, the country's ice and snow sports are expected to become a way more prevailing activity, with the population taking a direct part in winter sports including athletes, coaches and referees topping 50 million, per the country's winter sports development plan (2016-25) unveiled by the National Development and Reform Commission, the General Administration of Sport of China, among other government departments. The country has also set a goal to engage 300 million people in winter sports.

Sports powerhouse push

Winter sports fever is arguably an indication of the country's efforts to widen its sporting spectrum amid a push to turn the economy into a sporting powerhouse, according to industry insiders.

Zhou Zhen, a Beijing-based skiing instructor, has embraced the busiest sports season in recent months with daily training schedules being full every day.

All the skiing resorts near Beijing or even in Northeast China have seen a surge of visitors with children, young and elderly people coming to enjoy the sports, Zhou told the Global Times, noting that related skiwear and ski gears are high selling items.

The Beijing Winter Olympics has encouraged more Chinese to join in winter sports - which were previously enjoyed only by a small group of fans. Compared with the development of winter sports in Western countries, China is still at the initial stage as the public's enthusiasm has been sparked but a lack of systematic and scientific knowledge on winter sports exists.

China's skiers account for merely 1 percent of the Chinese population in 2019, far below countries with a head start such as Switzerland, which boasts a 35 percent penetration rate, according to Chen Mengjie, chief strategist with Yuekai Securities in Beijing, speaking of the vast untapped opportunities in the Winter Games' wake.

In the words of Zhou, the Beijing Games are envisaged to become a chance for China to populate and promote skiing, scientific sports, sports medicine and other related fields to bolster Chinese people's health and train more professional talents to carry on and promote the sports.

"I hope more people in China can come to join the winter sports and to feel the thrill and fun of the sports safely and get the experience of pushing themselves and making breakthroughs in the sports!"

President Xi, who has attached great importance to the development of sports in the country, has on many occasions expounded on his understanding of sports and laid down principles for the cause.

"Once a country that had few chances to participate in the Olympic Games, China today is home to athletes who excel at many sports. This markedly manifests China's development and growth of national strength," Xi said, according to Xinhua.

Sports play an irreplaceable role in improving people's fitness and health, facilitating well-rounded human development, enriching people's intellectual and cultural life, promoting economic and social development, and galvanizing the Chinese people of all ethnic groups to promote the spirit of striving for excellence and outperforming themselves, according to Xi.

Intl exchange hotspot, epicenter of hope

With the country hosting the Winter Olympics as planned, regardless of economic downturn pressures and sporadic flare-ups of the Omicron and Delta variants, the global community is shown to be rejuvenated in hearty anticipation of the pandemic-year Winter Olympics.

"It is important that Beijing provides the opportunity for us to come together to celebrate sports, especially when COVID-19 is spreading around the world," Austrian Ambassador to China Andreas Riecken said in an interview with the Global Times as the Beijing Winter Olympic Games is just around the corner.

Impressed by the Chinese people's increasing participation in ice and snow sports, Emanuel Lehner-Telic, regional manager for Asia at the Austrian National Tourist Office, told the Global Times that, "for Austria, as a winter sports nation, this creates an enormous opportunity to attract Chinese winter lovers and to show the positive effects of winter sports."

"On the other hand, this is also a cultural enrichment for the winter sports: The family of winter sports lovers will be even bigger now," the Austrian official said, noting that "this can give a boost to the whole winter sector - both in an economic and in a cultural dimension."

Austria, along with Sweden and Switzerland are among the world's winter sports powerhouses, where snow and ice sports have a long history.

Expecting the performance of Sweden's delegation to Beijing 2022, the biggest team the country has sent to Winter Olympic Games ever, to inspire young athletes, Swedish Ambassador to China Helena Sångeland noted in an exclusive interview with the Global Times that China and Sweden have long had close contacts in ice and snow sports cooperation.

China is poised to show the world the most cutting-edge scientific technology and excellent Chinese traditional culture through the opening ceremony and competitions during the Winter Olympics Games, Kim Jin-gon, Minister-Counsellor of the Embassy of the ROK in China and Director of the Korean Cultural Centre in China, told the Global Times in a recent exclusive interview.

"What is important is that sports should be protected from politicization, and world's peace and mutual understanding should be enhanced through the Olympic Games, a human sports festival," said the South Korea envoy.