Beijing’s Kunlun Red Star have upped their hockey profile by naming Wayne Gretzky their new global ambassador. The Red Star organization, which plays in the KHL, hope to use Gretzky to build youth hockey in China ahead of the upcoming Winter Olympics in 2022.
As China’s only professional hockey team, Red Star has the tall task of trying to grow interest in the game of hockey before the Olympics. What better way than to bring out the sport’s best as your representative?
Gretzky is scheduled to make visits to Beijing in September, aligning his visit with the NHL’s exhibition games in China between the Boston Bruins and Calgary Flames scheduled for September 15 and 19.
Red Star executive director Ao Meng was thrilled by the addition of Gretzky, as reported by ESPN.com.
“To now have him part of the growth of hockey in China in the buildup to the 2022 Winter Olympics will promote interest and participation in the sport, especially among young people.”
Gretzky being involved is awesome, but will he make much of a difference when the overall hockey culture in China appears to be mostly nonexistent? The world’s best cricket player could come to the United States and it wouldn’t do much to raise the overall profile of the sport. Gretzky could make a difference with the youth already involved or aware of hockey. Beyond that, the Red Star, Gretzky and the NHL may need to get creative.
The NHL has hinted that they recognize China as an opportunity to expand their global brand. As a result, many believe the league will return to Olympic action for the 2022 Olympics. Gretzky coming to Beijing to work with the Red Star may just be the beginning of future hockey development efforts in China.