A women's international ice hockey competition kicked off on Monday in Beijing, just one week after the city was visited by the Evaluation Commission of the International Olympic Committee to evaluate its bid to host the 2022 Winter Olympic Games.
Group B of Division I of the IIHF (International Ice Hockey Federation) Ice Hockey Women's World Championship will be held from Monday to April 12, with China hoping to qualify for the next stage.
Teams from China, Slovakia, Hungary, the Netherlands, North Korea and Italy will be competing in the seven-day event.
The World Championship has three stages: Top Division, Division I and Division II, with divisions divided into two groups each.
In Division I and II, the top teams in Group B will be elevated to Group A while the bottom team of each group will be relegated to the lower stage.
Slovakia was relegated to Group B after finishing last in Group A of Division I, while Italy topped Group A of Division II.
Founded in 1991, China's national women's ice hockey team, who placed fourth at the 1998 Nagano Winter Games but have not fared well since, finished second in Group B last year.
But Tong Lixin, vice-director of winter sports at the General Administration of Sport of China (GASC), said China is "not optimistic" about the sport's development.
"Though many kids consider ice hockey their favorite sport, few turn professional," Tong told a news conference on Tuesday.
He noted only two teams, one professional team in Harbin and one semi-professional team in Qiqihar - both in Heilongjiang Province - provide players to the national team.
Five veteran internationals have returned to the national team, but Wang Tiande, ice hockey chief at the GASC, said it remains challenging for China to step into the next stage because the team lacks depth.
Beijing is bidding against the city of Almaty, Kazakhstan to host the 2022 Games, and views the event as a way to promote winter sports in the city.
But organizing the ice hockey event was more difficult than it seems, according to Tong.
"When we were bidding for the right to host the Games, the IOC told the IIHF that it gave Beijing an unfair advantage in the bidding process by allowing the city to host the event," Tong said.
"After the IIHF and IOC met, the event remained in Beijing, but that left the city only two months to prepare for the event."
The last time Beijing hosted an international ice hockey event was in 1981.
In 2003, Beijing was scheduled to host the Top Division of the Women's World Championship, but it was canceled due to the SARS crisis.