DOHA – The Qatar Winter Sports Committee of the Qatar Olympic Committee together with Canadian ice hockey enthusiasts organized the Desert Cup 2014 in the capital of Doha.
The 12 participating teams playing in two divisions at the Villagio Ice Rink came from different countries in the Gulf region: Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
What was new this year was the participation of an all-Qatari team among the mostly expat participants in the event that started in 2007.
The country, well-known for its vast oil and gas reserves and becoming host of the 2022 FIFA World Cup, became an IIHF member in 2012 and has started developing local ice hockey players in recent years after enthusiasts from North America and Europe had brought the game to the country’s two ice rinks.
Having a national team labelled Qatar Oryx compete against national selections and expat teams from the region is a first step for the country that aims at joining the IIHF Challenge Cup of Asia in the future.
During the recent 2014 IIHF Challenge Cup of Asia in Abu Dhabi, the Qatar Ice Hockey Federation was represented to enquire about development opportunities and the IIHF National Association Assistance Program.
While the Dubai Mighty Camels from the United Arab Emirates won the Desert Cup, the lower division saw talent hailing from the Gulf countries play hockey as well. The Qatari national team started with a 2-1 loss to Oman but defeated Bahrain 3-0 in its group before losing 3-2 to the Qatar Canucks and beating the Qatar Raiders by the same score to finish the division in third place.
Among the players who won individual awards was 16-year-old Qatari Ghassan Souyah.
Rashed Majed Al-Sulaiti, the President of Qatar Winter Sports Committee, expressed his happiness about the tournament.
“The 12 teams have contributed to the ignition of the tournament during these three days, which is also popular among Canadian and European ice hockey enthusiasts and the visitors of the mall as well,” he said and appreciated the support by H.E. Sheikh Souad Bin Abdulrahman Al Thani, the Secretary General of Qatar Olympic Committee.
“This support and participation of the national team that competed well and reached an advanced placement is an important step to get us on the international hockey map.”
The Qatari national team also participated for the first time in the Qatar International Ice Hockey League that was founded by Canadians in 2003 and has grown to a record number of nine teams with the inclusion of the national team in 2013/2014.
Among the players is 20-year-old scoring leader Naif Al-Rumaihi, who talked to the Gulf Times during the event.
“This country is hot and the game is cold. This paradox makes the game interesting for me,” Al-Rumaihi said.
“I started as a skater and then five years ago I got hooked to ice hockey and I have been a player since. More and more Qataris are coming into the game. And soon we will have a new ice hockey stadium in the Al Sadd sports complex. That will help the popularity of the sport immensely.”
Qatar has not played in an IIHF event yet but may become the third Gulf country after the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait to do so if development progresses in Doha.