KHL looks to expand into China

MOSCOW (AP) -- The Kontinental Hockey League wants to expand into China, hoping to use a successful Chinese Winter Olympic bid to conquer the vast market. Beijing is the front-runner to host the 2022 Olympics and if successful, ''will essentially be forced to develop hockey from nothing,'' KHL president Dmitry Chernyshenko told the Tass agency. The International Olympic Committee will decide the host July 31. The ''catalyst'' of the Olympics would allow the Russia-based KHL to step in, says Chernyshenko, who wants to hold a regular-season game in China next season and add a Chinese team in the longer team. ''There's a potential candidate club which technically meets our demands. I'm talking about Shanghai,'' he said. He also expressed interest in Japan and 2018 Olympic host South Korea as part of a ''renaissance of hockey'' in Asia. The NHL has comparatively little presence in China compared to sports such as soccer or basketball, while the Chinese men's national team played in the fifth tier of the world championships this year against teams such as New Zealand and Mexico. The Russia-based KHL is widely seen as the best league outside the NHL but has hit financial problems this year, with several teams reportedly on the brink of financial collapse. One, former Gagarin Cup finalist Atlant Moscow Region, has already quit the league. A move into China would represent a change of strategy for the KHL, which under Chernyshenko's predecessor Alexander Medvedev had a long-term plan to push westwards across Europe as far as Britain. That meant adding teams in nations like the major hockey markets of Finland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia, but many of the European additions have struggled to survive and rely on financial contributions from Russian state-owned companies. Czech team Lev Prague collapsed last summer due to money problems, weeks after reaching the Gagarin Cup finals, while Ukrainian team Donbass Donetsk was shut down by the conflict in its home city and another club, Latvia's Dinamo Riga, is struggling to gather the funds to compete next season.