RABAT – Pitching the idea of a game on ice in a country dominated by desert isn’t always the easiest sell – but for Morocco’s Ice Hockey Association (ANMHG) passion for the sport is winning converts.
As the country took part in the IIHF World Girls’ Ice Hockey Weekend for the first time, Saad Tawfiq, the GM for the national association, is looking to build on 10 years of actively promoting hockey.
“We are trying to use the fact that hockey is a new sport, and up-and-coming sport in our country,” he said. “It’s the coolest sport in the world and we’re trying to push that message. It’s a fast-paced, all-action sport and we’re doing everything we can to get young people interested in it.”
Traditionally Moroccan sport revolves around football, but since the hockey association was formed in 2005, following the opening of the first ice rink in the capital city, Rabat, the North African nation has been gradually making its presence felt on the ice around the world.
International youth tournaments have brought club teams to visit from Europe while the country also sent a team to Quebec to compete in the Pee Wee International tournament. Fittingly, as the World Girls’ Ice Hockey Weekend came around, Tawfiq recalled that the country’s first goal in that event back in 2006 was scored by a girl, Yness Al Rakka.
The girls’ weekend event at the Mega Mall ice rink in Rabat was supported by coach Assan Erramchi and the association’s president Khalid Mrini. The three clubs Capitals, Ifis and Falcons joined together to help.
“The new girls were happy to see other girls playing hockey. They discovered a new way to have fun on the ice beside figure skating and the guys helped the female friends,” said Adil El Farj, the association’s technical director. “The World Girls’ Ice Hockey Weekend will help us achieve our goal of having a national female program and will lead us to have a women’s national team by 2020.”
Nine girls aged between 11 and 16 came to the first session and more girls will come to another one on Thursday helping to spread the word about the sport.
“At the moment we find people don’t really understand hockey,” Tawfiq added. “We’re a desert country and introducing a winter sport, an ice sport, here can be difficult. It’s hard for kids to go home and explain to their parents what it’s all about.
“That’s why we need support and financial help to develop the game. The IIHF does a lot of good work to promote hockey and we also get governmental assistance. But we are in a country where football is the top concern, both for the government and the public, so it will take time to introduce a new sporting culture.”
Even so, 10 years after becoming the first North African country to start promoting the game there are high hopes of more progress to come.
“Back then Mr. Mrini saw a chance to build a hockey program in Morocco,” said Tawfiq. “We’ve been through lots of problems and hardships but we’re finding that when people start, they tend to stay with us.
“Probably about 50 per cent of the people who joined us are still here. We’ve had a really good reaction from the girls we have recruited and one of them is even showing an interest in coaching in the future.”