In a sunken parking lot in Nairobi’s central business district, Kenya’s ice hockey team, the Ice Lions, trains on the pavement. That has been the team's routine for two years as members try to keep their skills sharp while being denied access to ice.
Thousands of miles away, the Beijing Winter Olympics are going on without them – something that weighs heavily on Ice Lions member Hassan Ali.
Ali, 22, said the Winter Olympics would have been the highlight of his and his teammates’ athletic careers.
“My teammates, they kind of feel sad, because most of us wanted to be there to represent our country, Kenya,” he said.
The Ice Lions have not had access to the region’s only ice rink since it was closed in 2020 because of the coronavirus pandemic. The government ordered the suspension of all sporting activities and the closure of entertainment venues.
But even before that happened, said Ben Azegere, the Ice Lions team captain, promoting hockey in Kenya was difficult because of the lack of financial support.
“The facility we are using is commercial," he said. "You have to pay for the facility to train, and most of the athletes at the same time cannot afford to pay for it.”
Kenya’s National Olympic Committee (NOCK) is responsible for coordinating Kenya’s international sporting events. Committee officials admit that a lack of funding has made it difficult for Kenya to participate at these Winter Games.
Kenya took part in the 2018 Winter Olympics and had hoped to send three individual athletes and the hockey team to this year’s event. NOCK’s secretary general, Francis Mutuku, said the cost of supporting teams at the Winter Olympics is prohibitive for a tropical country like Kenya but suggested that might change.
“We’ve engaged our Ministry of Sports, Culture and Heritage," Mutuku said. "They’ve also agreed with us that there should be a little bit more focus on the winter sports so that, even if we are not going to be competitive for a podium finish, the fact that Kenya will be represented, and that our flag will be flown at such an important international event, that will be good for us.”
The hockey team is hoping the ice rink will reopen soon so it can resume training and pursue its Olympic dreams. The next chance will come at the 2026 Winter Games in Italy.