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A goal of healthy fun

By Hou Chenchen | China Daily | Updated: 2024-06-18 12:30

Middle school students compete in the 2024 U-series floorball match at Shanghai Opark on April 21. [Photo provided to China Daily]

Sports educator helps lead hockey-like game to greater heights, Hou Chenchen reports.

Eight months remain until the 9th Asian Winter Games in Harbin, capital of Northeast China's Heilongjiang province, yet in May, most parts of China were in the midst of spring, with natural ice surfaces rare sight.

Because of this, an "alternative ice sport" from Europe is gaining popularity in China. The story began in 2002, physical education teacher Chen Xin, then 27, stepped into a Swedish sports club in Shanghai.

The Shanghai International Studies University (SISU) teacher had felt there was a significant decline in student enthusiasm for sports and wanted to find out about activities that might appeal to young people.

At the club, Chen witnessed a spirited game amid towering Swedish athletes, a petite girl held her own, moving about her competitors with fervor and determination and using her stature swiftly and effectively in defense and offense.

It was Chen's first encounter with floorball, and she found it exhilarating, engaging and, crucially, safe and easy to grasp.

"That's the sport I'd been searching for," Chen recalled.

Floorball, also known as indoor bandy, is a type of floor hockey with each team consisting of five players and a goalkeeper wielding blade-topped sticks to hit a plastic ball. The game was invented in Sweden in the late 1960s and quickly became popular for its minimal equipment and space needed. By the 1970s, formalized rules were established, signaling the advent of floorball as a competitive sport and ensuring it was increasingly played across the world.

On top of a growing number of fans like sports teacher Chen, floorball is also offering a way for many athletes to focus on an activity that can allow them to train during spring and summer.

Compared to hockey, floorball is designed to be safer with its lightweight sticks made primarily of carbon material together with hollow plastic balls perforated with holes to reduce injury risks. The sport requires speed, agility and teamwork.

Convinced of its potential, Chen resolved to introduce and popularize it within the university. The first step was to garner interest among her students.

"Since nobody knew about this sport, I wanted to draw students in by associating it with something more familiar. This sport bears similarities to ice hockey, but without skates," Chen said.

"Thus, 'land-based ice hockey' (handi bingqiu in Chinese) became its name in China."

In February 2018, China unveiled the Olympic Education Programme for Primary and Secondary Schools in preparation for the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics and Paralympics, including plans to introduce non-ice variations of winter sports in select southern cities. The move aimed to cultivate the interest of young people in winter sports and facilitate a gradual transition to traditional ice-based activities.

In February 2019, the General Administration of Sport of China officially recognized floorball as one of the promotional projects for winter sports leading up to the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics.

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