In a similar vein to the IIHF’s decision four years ago to allow Korea automatic berths to the 2018 Olympics in PyeongChang, the IIHF today confirmed at their Annual Congress that the next Winter Olympic hosts, China, will gain automatic berths for the men’s and women’s tournaments in Beijing for the 2022 Games.
Much like the decision for Korea, the intent is to not only allow for hometown fans to see their national team compete on home ice, but to increase investment and support for the national teams in the lead-up to the Olympics so they can field competitive squads in Beijing. Concerns over the automatic berths are sure to become more prevalent after the Korean squads not only finished last in both the men’s and women’s tournaments in 2018, but were outscored by a goal differential of -16 and -19, respectively.
Unlike the Korean scenario, however, the Chinese women’s team has played at the Top Division before, playing at the World Championships from 1992-2009 and in three Olympics previously (1998, 2002, 2010). The men’s squad is the team with the most concern, as China currently sits 33rd in the World Ranking, and has a lot of ground to make up between now and 2022. However, there is the possibility, like Korea, to not only recruit men’s and women’s players of Chinese descent from North America to play for China, but to also naturalize foreign players competing in China, particularly now that Chinese teams are in both the KHL and NWHL.
The IIHF confirmed that the men’s tournament format will remain the same for 2022, meaning that China (like all teams) would gain an automatic berth into the elimination rounds, while the women’s tournament will expand to ten teams for the first time, as was previously announced. Whether China can make an impact in Beijing remains to be seen, but if history is any guide, the Chinese preparation and determination for success at the 2008 Summer Games showed the world that China will be ready to take on the world in 2022.