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Russia-based KHL expands into China with Beijing team

MOSCOW -- The Russia-based Kontinental Hockey League is expanding into China next season with a team in Beijing, the host city for the 2022 Winter Olympics.

KHL deputy chairman Roman Rotenberg told Russia's Tass agency on Monday that the unnamed team will start play in September at the 18,000-capacity MasterCard Center in Beijing, the 2008 Olympic basketball venue and home of the Beijing Ducks basketball team.

Rotenberg said that the new team will be financed by Russian and Chinese businesses and that the project includes an academy staffed by "several children's coaches" sent by the KHL to develop players. There is also support from the Chinese government, which is seeking to expand hockey in time for the Olympics, he added.

The KHL has 28 teams in seven countries across Eastern Europe and Central Asia but remains highly focused on Russia, which has 22 teams. Other countries have one team each.

The league has shown an increasing interest in the Asian market after abandoning expansion in Europe.

The KHL once planned to expand west as far as Britain, but those plans stalled because of financial problems at several of the league's teams, including Czech team Lev Prague, which ceased operations last year despite setting league-record crowds. Many KHL teams remain reliant on funding from Russian regional governments or state-run companies.