News / Africa

Ice Hockey Gains Popularity in Kenya

At the Solar Ice Rink in Nairobi, some young Kenyans are playing a new and exciting western game, ice hockey
At the Solar Ice Rink in Nairobi, some young Kenyans are playing a new and exciting western game, ice hockey

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Mike Sunderland

In a country famed for its distance runners and sweltering sun, few would expect Kenya to be enthusiastic about winter sports. But at an ice rink in the capital, some young Kenyans are playing a new and exciting western game.

Ice hockey is not usually associated with Africa, but at the Solar Ice Rink in Nairobi, the players are happy to try something different.

Alisaid Kilange took up the sport a year ago. After weekly training sessions and the help of American and Canadian friends, he has discovered a new passion. He says his learning curve was steep.

Alisaid Kilange
Alisaid Kilange

"I couldn't play, I thought it was very hard and tricky," he said. "Balancing the skates, controlling the stick, it was tricky until I tried it."

Nowadays, Ali says the speed and the skill of hockey are what he likes the best. The surface, 1,500 square meters in an upmarket Nairobi hotel, is the only place where he has played. The staff says it costs thousands of dollars a month to keep the ice cold, no easy task in a country where snow only falls on the highest mountains.  It's the only ice rink in east Africa.

With the nearest ice rink nearly 2,000 miles away in South Africa, competition is hard to come by. But the players are confident that given more time, more Kenyans will get involved and the sport will grow enough to hold regular games.

On the streets, knowledge of ice hockey is, at this point, limited.

"Ice hockey? No, I don't think I've seen that, but ice skating I have seen," says one woman when asked what she knows about the sport.

"Ice hockey? All I know is that I've seen it on TV, I've seen it on movies," says one man. "It's just like the hockey we have here only that they do it on ice."

Kenya has long dominated distance running at the Summer Olympics, but some Kenyans believe they could one day rival Jamaica's famous bobsleigh team by bringing their own brand of "cool runnings" to a major tournament.

Would anyone like to see Kenya competing in the Winter Olympics? Is that something that's possible?

"I think it's very possible with the correct coaching and marketing of the local game," one man replied. "Many Kenyans have not joined it because it is foreign to them."

It's unlikely that ice hockey will ever reach the popularity of soccer or distance running here, but in this small corner of Nairobi, it seems it's one cold sport that will continue to receive a warm welcome.

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