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East Africa’s only ice rink offers athletes a chance to engage with … pastimes

A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step a description befitting the first Kenya Ice Hockey team eyeing participation in the Winter Olympic. Though Kenya is among world-beater in athletics, the Ice Hockey team has set a giant dream to conquer in a discipline regarded as ‘White man sport’.

Benard Azegere the national team Instructor reveals that at first it was difficult to introduce the sport to the locals. “A lot of people, a lot of Africans, initially thought it is a white man’s sport. It was hard to recruit players,” said Azegere.

Interestingly, the team is beating the odds in country where the only naturally occurring snow exists at the top of 17,000-foot-high Mount Kenya. Speaking to the People Sport, Azegere notes the Ice hockey is played primarily in cold weather countries globally but they train in the only ice rink in East or Central Africa at Panari Hotel, Nairobi.

A team assembled six years ago, Azegere exudes confidence that their ultimate goal is to successfully participate in Beijing Winter Olympic in 2022. For them, there is light at the end of the tunnel after a six-member team has been sponsored to grace 2018 Winter Olympic games starting today in South Korea. “It is a dream come true flying to South Korea for the global event after an official invite and sponsorship by Alibaba. We will play two or three international friendly games,” Azegere said.

With this, Kenya is bracing itself to be a member of the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) to join South Africa and Morocco the only African countries members. IIHF has 76 members (54 full members, 21 associate members and one affiliate member).

“The process of registering a federation is in advanced stage and promising,” he said. According to Robert Opiyo an Ice hockey player, points the team which comprises local and international players is setting the pace and will soon join dominant countries in Ice hockey.

“I have been in the team for almost three years from Malaysia where I came into contact with naturally ice for the first time and got interested in the sport,” said Opiyo. He added that majority of players started playing the sport after gaining skills from street hockey and skating in Nairobi. Alexander Zhukov a Russian international ice hockey player has commended the team expressing confidence in their potential.

Zhukov who is in the country for the last five months and has been training with the team describe some team members as ‘international candidate’. “I am impressed by the team quality, they have skills, energy and they are going far,” he said. But despite the strides made by the team, Azegere who is also the captain express that they are still facing numerous challenges.

“The Ice link has sharp corners as it was not originally designed with hockey in mind but for school-going children and locals to have novel experience by skating” Azegere said.

Other challenges include; the games are informal and no official uniform and many players don’t wear helmets. During training, two players don custom-made jerseys emblazoned with hockey sticks crossing the distinctive shield on the Kenyan flag.

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