x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Kuwait following UAE ice hockey example

The Gulf nation are adding infrastructure and playing more after bouts of inactivity over the years, says Amith Passela.

ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - May 28, 2012 - The UAE team took the ice against Oman in the first day of the 2nd Gulf Cup Tournament in Abu Dhabi. ( DELORES JOHNSON / The National )
ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - May 28, 2012 - The UAE team took the ice against Oman in the first day of the 2nd Gulf Cup Tournament in Abu Dhabi. ( DELORES JOHNSON / The National )

Kuwait are emerging from oblivion and striving to become an ice hockey powerhouse in the region.

And they are using the UAE blueprint to help their push for the top.

Last night, they began their Gulf Cup campaign with a 13-2 triumph over Bahrain at the Abu Dhabi Ice Rink.

"The sport has been revived under a new leadership and now we are following a similar development programme as the UAE on the recommendations of the IIHF [International Ice Hockey Federation]," Salem Al Ajami, one of the four brothers in the Kuwait national team, said.

"We now have a programme for youth development, both boys and girls, and have started a new league this season with four teams. We have hired a new national team coach [Marko Zidarevic]."

Kuwait hosted the inaugural Gulf Cup and finished runners-up behind the UAE on May 2010.

"It gave the sport a massive shot in the arm," Al Ajami said. "We need to have competitions if any sport is to develop. The Gulf Cup drew a lot of attention from the country's youth, who play hockey for recreation.

"After the Gulf Cup, we invited the youth for training programmes and received good response. We now have more than 100 boys and more than 50 girls under this development programme.

"It was very encouraging. We started a league this year, open for both locals and expatriates. I think we are on the right path for improvement. It is also encouraging more Gulf nations are getting involved and are serious in developing ice hockey in the region.

"We have pretty good infrastructure including an Olympic size ice rink besides a couple of others where hockey is being played regularly. I am very hopeful the game is on the up this time."

Zidarevic, who was the UAE coach for more than 10 years, was pleased with his team's opening game victory and said they had the potential to improve.

"It is the first game and it is always good to start with a win," said the Serbian who took charge of the team on a one-year contract in February.

Kuwait's progress was amplified last month when they reached the semi-finals in the Challenge Cup of Asia which was won by the UAE when it was staged in India.

Kuwait went down to Thailand through a last minute goal in the semi-finals and lost to Malaysia in the play-off for third.

"We were very satisfied with our performances up to the semi-finals but not in the play-off. We could have done much, much better, and even won that game, but that didn't happen," Al Ajami said.

Kuwait were the first Arab country to join the IIHF in 1985.

They were expelled as an IIHF member in 1992 because of a lack of activity but rejoined to become the first Arab nation to play in the Asian Winter Games against Japan, China, and Mongolia in 1999.

After another quiet period, they returned to the international arena at the 2007 Asian Winter Games where they recorded their first win - against Macau.

The following year, they competed in the Arab Cup, finishing second behind the UAE. In 2010, Kuwait competed in their first IIHF Challenge Cup of Asia, finishing seventh overall.