Friday, March 11, 2016

Hockey up high

ZURICH – Ice Hockey could be headed to the Himalayas.

On 8 March the IIHF received a visit from a delegation of ice hockey and sports representatives from Nepal, who formally submitted a proposal to join the IIHF as an associate member.

“With the support of the government and the IIHF, we are looking to build a new chapter in Nepalese sports with ice hockey” said Nepal Ice Hockey Association President Lok Bahadur Shahi.

Situated almost entirely within the Himalaya mountain range and containing eight of the world’s ten tallest peaks, including Mount Everest, Nepal’s climate that varies greatly based on altitude. The country as of now has no artificial ice rinks, but plans to build some are in the works.

The push by the Nepalese to join the IIHF comes at a time when the sport is seeing a rise in popularity in the country. Traditionally a football and cricketing nation, Nepal now has as many as 157 active sports associations and is working with the International Olympic Committee in developing Nepalese sports.

“Ice hockey has been growing in popularity, thanks in part to the Internet,” said Hari Prasad Sarmah, advisor to the Nepal Ice Hockey Association. “We hope to build out first rink in Kathmandu in two to three years and take advantage of this.”

While confined at the moment to natural ice rinks that are useable for six months out of the year, the Nepal Ice Hockey Association is aiming to tap into the large populations located in the country’s urban centres to find and develop players. Cities like the capital Kathmandu and Pokhara were put forth as ideal locations for building an ice rink and raising awareness for the sport.

“They started contacting me in the middle of 2014,” said IIHF Vice-President for Asia Thomas Wu. “The development of a sport, especially at the beginning, needs a lot of support from the government, and we see a lot of that in different parts of Asia.”

“We are fully confident, in a matter of two to three years, Nepal will also be fully equipped to join the ice hockey fraternity and start participating in regional and international tournaments and friendly matches,” said Keshab Kumar Bista, Member-Secretary of the Nepal National Sports Council.

Wu was encouraged by the strong bid submitted by Nepal, and sees some potential for the sport to grow and develop within a country of over 27 million people.

“I draw some parallels with their program with that of Mongolia, where it’s cold enough where players can play outdoors. The Mongolian players are quite competitive, even with the limited ice time they receive during the short season.”

With Indonesia and the Philippines and slated to receive associate member status pending approval of the 2016 IIHF Congress, the IIHF will be adding three Asian nations to its membership, with a combined population of over 400 million.

“Asia is an important part in our development plans, and we welcome these new members,” said IIHF President RenĂ© Fasel.

“It’s exciting, we want to see more players and more development, but it’s a good starting point and it’s great to see such growth,” said Wu.

ADAM STEISS

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