Within five years, China may have 10,000 pickleball courts and 100 million players, according to Seymour Rifkind, pickleball ambassador.
‘Rif’ says in a recent Front Office Sports article that this was a pledge given to him from “top sports officials in China.”
If Rif’s prediction is correct, that means China will have outpaced the United States in less than a couple of years, since the APP claimed only 36.5 million Americans played in 2022.
Sure, America may have the upper hand in terms of total courts built already.
But as Front Office Sports points out, China has a dozen cities with larger populations than New York … if pickleball does become popular there, they’ll be forced to build quickly. Imagine the wait times otherwise.
China doesn’t just have the numbers to make it the most popular nation for pickleball, it has the engagement to match. According to the article:
- Rif’s group gave demonstrations in Dong Ying, Beijing, and Hebei, with the last event receiving 4.8 million views online
- Meanwhile, the most-watched US pickleball event (2023 Nationals) only received 2.6 million total views; while most of your week-to-week events receive a few thousand at best
But perhaps we shouldn’t frame this as a proverbial arms race. After all, paddle sports have a habit of bringing the two countries together:
- During the Cold War, a US delegation ventured to the People’s Republic of China to play table tennis
- “Ping pong diplomacy” actually did play a role in smoothing over tensions between the two nations
- It also propelled that sport to the Olympics by the late '80s
If pickleball makes it to the Olympics soon, Chinese competitors may out-medal Americans.
We know Americans won’t want to hear that, but if China’s interest in pickleball literally funds the sport’s future, how could we complain?