BEIJING — Wayne Gretzky has been named a global ambassador for Beijing’s Kunlun Red Star as the Chinese capital seeks to boost the profile of hockey domestically ahead of hosting the Winter Olympics in 2022.
Gretzky will focus on youth development in China, including a planned KRS-Gretzky Hockey School that will provide advanced training for players aged 8-17 in Beijing and the southern tech hub of Shenzhen, eventually expanding to at least 20 locations nationwide.
Red Star is China’s only professional team and plays in the Russia-based Kontinental Hockey League.
China is seeking to boost hockey in a country where winter sports participation remains in its infancy.
The official China Daily newspaper quoted Red Star’s Executive Director Ao Meng as saying Gretzky’s involvement would be a "tremendous boost."
"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," Ao said.
Gretzky is scheduled to make promotional visits to Beijing, Shenzhen and the financial centre of Shanghai on Sept. 12-18.
For the second year, the National Hockey League is holding promotional games in China, with the Boston Bruins and Calgary Flames facing off in Shenzhen on Sept. 15 and Beijing on Sept. 19.
China represents an as-yet untapped resource for the NHL, especially ahead of the 2022 Olympics.
Commissioner Gary Bettman has so far been noncommittal about the NHL going to the 2022 Games after skipping the 2018 Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea. But the work is already under way in an increasingly competitive sports market in China, where the NBA has had a presence for decades.