Days after Beijing submitted its 2022 Winter Olympic Games bid to the International Olympic Committee, President Xi Jinping highlighted on Wednesday the importance of holding the event and involving more Chinese in winter sports.
"It will inspire more than 300 million Chinese to take up winter sports, which will contribute greatly to the Olympic movement," Xi told visiting Sheik Ahmad al-Fahad al-Sabah, president of the Association of National Olympic Committees.
The newly re-elected president of Kuwait expressed his best wishes for the bid, saying China has already shown its capability to hold large-scale sports events.
The association, established in 1979, is seeking to protect and advance the interests of the National Olympic Committees in more than 200 countries by delivering assistance and support, according to its website.
The meeting in the Great Hall of the People followed Beijing handing over its official 2022 Winter Olympic Games bid to the International Olympic Committee at IOC headquarters in Lausanne, Switzerland, on Jan 6.
Beijing hopes to co-host the Games with Zhangjiakou, a city 200 kilometers northwest of Beijing in Hebei province.
Ice sports would be staged in Beijing, while snow events would be held in Zhangjiakou. The two cities will be linked by high-speed railway.
Zhang Zhaohui, from the Beijing Bureau of Sports, said an increasing number of Chinese people would take up winter sports as the bidding process introduces more diversified sports and improved facilities.
A similar effect happened after Beijing hosted the 2008 Olympic Games and has been evident in Beijing and Zhangjiakou since the announcement of the bid in 2013, said Zhang.
According to media reports, the highway to Zhangjiakou is often jammed on Friday afternoons in winter with Beijing residents getting away for ski weekends.
China has made impressive progress at recent Winter Games in figure, short-track and speedskating. In other sports like Alpine skiing, though, it still lags far behind.
But such sports are growing quickly as the Chinese middle class expands. According to the Chinese Ski Association, there were fewer than 10,000 skiers in the country in 1996. Estimates put that number above 5 million last year, The Associated Press said earlier.
Beijing is now in a two-city race with Almaty, Kazakhstan to host the Olympics, after Oslo, Norway, withdrew.
The final decision on the host city will be announced at an IOC assembly on July 31 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.