The rise of women’s hockey in Oman
by Liz MONTROY|21 JUL 2023
photo: © Khalid Saif Amur Aljahdhami

Every Saturday morning from 7:00-8:30am, the rink at FunZone Oman comes alive as Oman’s women’s hockey players take to the ice for their weekly practice. The group of around 30 players, ranging in age from 12 to late 30s, practice year-round (taking one month off for Ramadan), driven by a long-term vision of a prospering women’s hockey program.

“Since I was 12, I really liked ice hockey,” said Dosa Alkindi, a player in the program. “I saw the men’s team, and I started asking for a girls team. After eight years we had a girls team, finally.”

Oman joined the IIHF as an Associate Member in 2014, and has sent a men’s team to several IIHF Asia and Oceania Championships, winning a bronze medal in the 2017 Division I tournament. The women’s team however is still relatively new, having only existed for about two years. When Canadian Scott Labonte moved from Qatar to Oman in 2018, the women’s program did not yet exist, and his daughter played with his son on the boys team. Now Labonte coaches his daughter on the women’s team.

“I enjoy getting up at 6:00am on a Saturday to hang out with these ladies,” said Labonte. “My daughter’s on the team, but I would still be going if she wasn’t. They’re a very nice group of young ladies. They’re cheeky, they’re funny. They want to get better, they try. The future looks bright.”

The program initially started with just four players, and now has a mix of Omani citizens and expats. In 2021, Oman participated in the IIHF Women and Girls Ice Hockey Weekend for the first time.

“I’ve liked to skate since I was 10 years old,” said Lolo Ofui, another player on the women’s team. “I met one girl, she told me that there were four players. She let me meet them and then we talked. She said they had a hockey team and she asked me to join. I was very happy to join the team.”

“A lot of it is skill development. Skating, passing, shooting,” Labonte said of the program’s focus. “The biggest thing is, none of these kids have ever watched hockey. So that’s a big thing—[having them] watch YouTube, play the video game, to try to understand where things are. Back in Canada, kids already sort of know where the defender is supposed to be just from watching TV. We’re starting from scratch on positioning. Right now we focus on skill development, confidence, teamwork. We’ve slowly progressed into more game sense and how to play and different techniques.”

The team has organized internal mini tournaments, dividing the players into small teams to play against one another. They occasionally play against Oman’s boys team, but are exploring opportunities to compete with other women’s teams in the region. A few players have travelled to other countries for game experience as well— Alkindi is one of six players who went to a hockey tournament in Kuwait in September 2022.

“Three of us played for Bahrain and three of us played for Kuwait B. I played for Kuwait B,” said Alkindi. “My position was defence and it was my first time to play defence. After that we went to Kuwait to help with referee duties and learn how to use the system and how to count the shots.”

Alkindi and Ofui both attended the inaugural IIHF Women’s Summit in February, and like many of Oman’s players, are eager to learn about all aspects of the sport. Off the ice, Oman’s women’s players are involved in obtaining funding and sponsorship as well as recruiting new players. They also help develop ideas for further learning and development; Ofui for instance, has helped plan off-ice training and looked into buying roller skates for the program. There is also considerable integration between all of Oman’s teams—none of them work in a silo, instead supporting and contributing to each others’ success.

“If we have a men’s tournament, all the girls are there volunteering, doing the time clock, scorekeeping as well,” said Labonte. “When [the women’s team has] a tournament, all the guys come and watch the ladies as well. So it’s got that hockey community type of feel.”

While there are challenges, Labonte sees the hockey values he knows from playing and coaching in Canada—from teamwork and self-confidence to simply having fun—exhibited in Oman’s women’s players. Combine that with their determination and passion to grow the game, and the sky’s the limit.

“A lot of them, after a year of one skate a week, they can play hockey now,” said Labonte. "I’ve seen them go from very shy, very quiet young ladies to being very confident. Seen their confidence build not only on the rink, but outside the rink as well. [Our biggest] opportunity is to prove what these ladies can do, that they can compete and they can take control of their own situation.”

“It’s the passion. They’re there on time, they’re trying to bring new people in. They’re spending time on YouTube and trying to learn new things. They really want to make this successful in Oman. They’re realistic, they know right now that by the time they’re done playing, they’re not going to be going to IIHF tournaments. But they’re thinking long-term. They want to see this succeed in Oman long-term. They’re in it for the long haul.”