Africa’s Biggest Nation Sets Sights on Ice Hockey
Algeria’s development of ice hockey didn’t start in 2019, when the nation was promoted as one of the newest members of the International Ice Hockey Federation. Algerian hockey started much earlier than that. It didn’t even start in the country, but in Great Britain, where a group of men decided that they wanted to represent the nation they were from.
Karim Kerbouche is the current president of Hockey Algeria and one of the main people who helped Algeria become a member of the IIHF. He is from Great Britain, but his heritage is from Algeria. From his pride and determination, he wanted a nation he held close to experience his favorite sport.
“There were a lot of players around the world of Algerian origin,” Kerbouche said. “I contacted those players and they had the same idea as me, but no one had really take that step together and make a team.”
The journey started before 2008. Algeria would be represented in a one-off tournament called the Arab Cup. It was four countries that were in the middle east, or had close connections to the region. It included the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, and Morocco. All of these nations would later become members of the IIHF. Although there was a lot of success in being represented in a tournament for the first time, Algeria finished last.
Algeria would go on to developing the sport more in the next couple of years, and the faithful day finally came in 2019. But their excitement would turn into a stalemate, as in a few months after their admission into the IIHF, the world slowed down into a standstill because of COVID-19.
“We have no funding from Algeria. We were banging on people’s doors and hoping that people would give us a chance,” Kerbouche said. “We wanted something more concrete in the country instead of just a thumbs up from the government. We finally started getting the ball rolling after we joined the IIHF, but COVID-19 happened and we were back to banging on people’s doors again.”
Kerbouche was affected by the pandemic. There were a lot of plans to help grow hockey in Algeria, including a youth program in the country. One of the most important steps in growing a sport in a country is to get a program going to create life-long followers of the sport. But because of the two-year pandemic, Kerbouche found himself at step one again.
Despite Algeria being in the Sahara Desert, most of the country’s population is in the north part of the country. In the area close to the Mediterranean, that area has more habitual land, and it’s hard to find a desert there. There are snowy mountains, and very rarely, you can find cold weather. It’s no winter paradise, but it’s a country that can easily build on its winter programs, and its connection towards Europe makes that even more possible.
Algeria does have one indoor ice rink, but it’s not IIHF regulation size. In middle eastern countries, you often find ice rinks placed in malls. This is true for even non-IIHF countries like Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and Syria. But the issue is that the ice rink is not located in a major population hub of the country.
It’s located in Setif, a city with a little less than 300,000 people. While a nice size, it dwarfs in comparison with the nation’s capital, Algiers, and Oran. An issue that Kerbouche currently has is that while there is interest in learning the sport, if you were from Algiers, it would be a three-hour drive to get to the ice rink.
But there is only praise from Kerbouche about the rink. While he lives in Great Britain, he has a lot of rinks around him. He says that the rink inside the mall has a lot of quality for what is in the country.
But what gives Kerbouche hope is what he sees in the changing culture of Algeria. “The older generation could be linked more into France and French culture,” he said. “The younger generation is more interested in American culture, and that means the youth is more aware of ice hockey.”
Algeria may have had some setbacks, but it’s dusting itself off and keep going ahead. They have a few challenges ahead, but the goal is to have a sustainable sport for the children and adults of Algeria to enjoy.