Kunlun Red Star, China’s only KHL team, has appointed Wayne Gretzky as the club’s global ambassador. This is part of a long-term agreement that will see the legendary Canadian involved in a comprehensive youth development program in China.
Gretzky’s main focus will be to help youth development and training for kids eight to seventeen at a planned hockey school in China, a program that is expected to expand to at least 20 locations across the country over the next five years.
Gretzky will visit China from Sept 12-18, making promotional stops in Beijing, Shenzhen and Shanghai.
“Having Wayne Gretzky on board is a tremendous boost for hockey in China,” Red Star’s Executive Director Ao Meng told the ChinaDaily.com’s Sun Xiaochen. “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.”
This is China’s way of aiding its hockey program ahead of the 2022 Winter Olympics taking place in Beijing.
“I’m excited to make my first trip to China next month and partner with Kunlun Red Star to grow this wonderful game,” Gretzky said. “I’m looking forward to seeing more and more young players take part in the sport.”
This move is not directly tied to the NHL but it will help bolster interest therefore helping the NHL’s efforts to grow hockey in the world’s most populated country. The Vancouver Canucks and Los Angeles Kings played preseason games in Shanghai and Beijing last year, while the Calgary Flames and Boston Bruins are scheduled to play twice in China this September.
While the NHL opted out of the Olympics in PyeongChang this year, most expect the league to be more eager to participate at Beijing 2022.