ERZURUM, Turkey – Thanks to the Winter Universiade in 2011 the city of Erzurum in the east of Turkey got new facilities to grow ice hockey and other winter sports. The Turks hope to build on the legacy of this and other events such as the ongoing 2017 European Youth Olympic Festival in the city.
Former women’s national team coach Irfan Kurudirek, a member of the organizing committee of the EYOF, works on the project “Be Champion” with 100 schools.
“We are visiting schools in order to create lasting effects of the sporting events for Erzurum. It’s educational and informative presentations about the European Youth Olympic Festival and winter sports for 10,000 students studying in these schools,” Kurudirek said. “The aim of the project is to create new champions of the future and increase the students' sympathy to sport by observing the schools and identify the talented students.”
Already 920 students registered to watch future athletes at the festival and join the program in nine different sports supported by the Ministry of Sports. The goal is to make kids watching the competitions future champions. And many of them want to champion the exciting sport of ice hockey. So after the first step it will be up to the sport federations to make training possible.
“We have started off with the slogan ‘Your city, your facility, be champion!’ and we hope that our city will be mentioned with its champions,” he said. “The ice rinks are full for the EYOF right now but after that we’ll start with the training, talent identification and tests.”
Ice hockey is growing in Turkey, a country known to many rather for historic cities, Mediterranean food and beach resorts than for winter sports. But there are ice rinks all over the country and Erzurum, located at 1,900 metres above sea level, provides a perfect climate to champion winter sports. With temperatures between -5 and -29°C in the next few days the winter is certainly not warmer than in many classic hockey cities in Europe and North America.
Ten years ago Turkey had just two rinks for hockey and 520 players. Now the Turkish Ice Hockey Federation (TBHF) boasts 1,092 registered players with rinks being built all over the country that joined the IIHF in 1991. Especially youth and women’s hockey has grown substantially during the decade.
A first glimpse of positive result was visible as well recently. Last year the men’s U18 team jumped from 41st to 36th overall in the IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship program leaving countries like Bulgaria, Israel, Mexico and New Zealand behind. The U20 national team some weeks ago even beat China in the final of the 2017 IIHF Ice Hockey U20 World Championship Division III to earn promotion and move from 40th to 35th place overall in the program. Turkish youth hockey reached new heights in the last 10 months.
For the organizers of the European Youth Olympic Festival it wasn’t easy times though. Erzurum jumped in as a backup because the original host, Sarajevo in Bosnia and Herzegovina, didn’t have the facilities ready in time while Erzurum is well-equipped after the 2011 Winter Universiade. But due to the fear of being just about 300 kilometres away from troubled areas in Syria and Iraq, several countries pulled out during the last few months leaving still a great number of 34 European federations and 650 athletes in the competitions. Those who are there can enjoy the event and snowman Karbeyaz, the mascot whose Turkish name literally means “Snow White”.
The ice hockey tournament with U17 national teams was eventually run with five instead of six squads at the 3,000-seat ice hockey arena of the Kazim Karabekir sports complex.
While Turkey normally doesn’t play against the top nations in IIHF tournaments, their boys’ team did so at this event. It was an honour for the young players where they could watch and play against some of the very top hockey players of their age category. But it was also games that showed there’s still quite a gap to the elite hockey nations. They lost 42-0 against Russia and 10-0 against France in the group stage thus missing the semi-finals.
There Belarus beat France 2-1 and Russia defeated Slovakia 4-2 today to set up a Russia-Belarus gold medal game on Friday (16:30 local time) following the France-Slovakia semi-final (13:00 local time). You can follow the event on www.eyof2017erzurum.org