sports world

Kuwait’s ‘ice ladies’ gear up for Ice Hockey World Championship

The country’s first-ever women ice hockey team are ready to make their debut in Bangkok later this month.

In their red, white and blue uniforms, Kuwait’s first women ice hockey team is training hard in the desert ahead of their debut world tournament later this month.

Affectionately dubbed the “ice ladies” by local media, athletes in hijab or with their hair hastily tied in topknots pull on their helmets before taking to the rink in the Kuwaiti capital – where temperatures top 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit) on a sunny October afternoon.

“It’s totally new, girls playing this sort of demanding sport here in Kuwait and in the Gulf, but it goes to show that in sports there is truly no difference between men and women,” said team player Bahar al-Harban.

Women on ice have grabbed headlines in the Gulf this year, with UAE national Zahra Lari gaining popularity on social media – and through a Nike campaign in the Middle East – as the Emirates’ first female figure skater and the first international figure skater to compete in hijab.

Kuwait’s women’s ice hockey team will play their first international game on October 30 at the Ice Hockey World Championship in Bangkok, according to the state-run KUNA news agency.

Slow but steady

Fifty-six Kuwaiti women between the ages of 15 and 30 are now the proud owners of team jerseys emblazoned with their names on the back – some of them mothers who frequently bring their children to training.

But while the athletes have the support of their teammates and, increasingly, of their communities, what they lack is their own training facility. For now, they still rent the ice rink in a state-run ski lounge.

“We need facilities dedicated to training women to convince families that that their daughters need to be involved in sports,” said Sheikha Naima Al-Sabah, president of the Kuwaiti Women’s Sports Authority. “We initially faced some resistance due to social traditions, but the culture of women in sports is spreading and we’re not regular faces at Asian tournaments,” she told AFP.

“So we are progressing, but slowly, because some of our girls immediately marry at a certain age – or because they choose to wear hijab in a world where you’re not allowed into certain sports if you choose to wear hijab”.

Members of Kuwait's women's ice hockey team take part in a training session in Kuwait City. AFP
Members of Kuwait's women's ice hockey team take part in a training session in Kuwait City. AFP

Hockey a good fit

International basketball governing body FIBA in May rescinded a ban on hijab and other forms of religious headcovers, which on the grounds that they could potentially fall off and pose a risk to players. But with its oversized jerseys, shin guards and helmets, hockey is a good fit for many of the Kuwaiti national team players.

“As you see, the uniform totally covers everything,” said team player Khaleda Abdel Karim​​ during a break in practice. “So I personally find no difficulties at all in that sense,” she smiled, adding that the team had received strong support from both Kuwait’s government and the public.

Despite the warm welcome the team has received, the women are still fighting to both secure the best for their athletes – and to overcome culture challenges both at home and abroad.

“In order to get the best results, you need to be given the best training,” said Sheikha Naima of the sports authority. What we need are good coaches, professional trainers. I don’t want... just any coach​ for my girls”.

Meet Kuwait's first ever women's hockey team. AFP
Meet Kuwait's first ever women's hockey team. AFP
We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

Watch Ruchir's journey: A story that captures the impact of accessible technology

Accessible technology has the potential to change lives.

“Technology can be a great leveller”, affirms Ruchir Falodia, Social Media Manager, TATA CLiQ. Out of the many qualities that define Ruchir as a person, one that stands out is that he is an autodidact – a self-taught coder and lover of technology.

Ruchir’s story is one that humanises technology - it has always played the role of a supportive friend who would look beyond his visual impairment. A top ranker through school and college, Ruchir would scan course books and convert them to a format which could be read out to him (in the absence of e-books for school). He also developed a lot of his work ethos on the philosophy of Open Source software, having contributed to various open source projects. The access provided by Open Source, where users could take a source code, modify it and distribute their own versions of the program, attracted him because of the even footing it gave everyone.

That is why I like being in programming. Nobody cares if you are in a wheelchair. Whatever be your physical disability, you are equal with every other developer. If your code works, good. If it doesn’t, you’ll be told so.

— Ruchir.

Motivated by the objectivity that technology provided, Ruchir made it his career. Despite having earned degree in computer engineering and an MBA, friends and family feared his visual impairment would prove difficult to overcome in a work setting. But Ruchir, who doesn’t like quotas or the ‘special’ tag he is often labelled with, used technology to prove that differently abled persons can work on an equal footing.

As he delved deeper into the tech space, Ruchir realised that he sought to explore the human side of technology. A fan of Agatha Christie and other crime novels, he wanted to express himself through storytelling and steered his career towards branding and marketing – which he sees as another way to tell stories.

Ruchir, then, migrated to Mumbai for the next phase in his career. It was in the Maximum City that his belief in technology being the great leveller was reinforced. “The city’s infrastructure is a challenging one, Uber helped me navigate the city” says Ruchir. By using the VoiceOver features, Ruchir could call an Uber wherever he was and move around easily. He reached out to Uber to see if together they could spread the message of accessible technology. This partnership resulted in a video that captures the essence of Ruchir’s story: The World in Voices.

Play

It was important for Ruchir to get rid of the sympathetic lens through which others saw him. His story serves as a message of reassurance to other differently abled persons and abolishes some of the fears, doubts and prejudices present in families, friends, employers or colleagues.

To know more about Ruchir’s journey, see here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Uber and not by the Scroll editorial team.