In war-torn Somalia, finding enough ice to cool a drink is difficult. But discovering enough frozen water on which to glide around on ice skates and play hockey is nigh on impossible.
So plans by a team of 11 Somali refugees to travel to Siberia next year to compete in the world championships for the game of bandy – a Nordic version of ice hockey – must rate as sensational. They will be the world’s first African bandy team on record.
Somalia’s bandy players have only been on ice a handful of times, but their coach, Swedish bandy professional Per Fosshaug, intends to take the team to the 2014 World Bandy Championships in Irkutsk, Siberia, in January.
Their participation is being compared to Jamaica entering a bobsleigh team in the 1988 Winter Olympics, a tale which inspired the film Cool Runnings. “Everyone can play football, but ice-skating – that requires time and patience,” said Ahmed Hussein, 18, who is in the side.
The team still has to master the skills for the high-speed skating game, which goes back to early 16th-century Russia and is played on ice the size of a football pitch.
In the wake of the Lampedusa tragedy, the Somali bandy side is certain to be seen as an advertisement for Sweden’s success in integrating refugees from Africa.
The project was dreamt up by the team’s Swedish manager, Patrik Andersson, to bring the growing 2,000-strong Somali refugee population in Borlänge, west of Stockholm, closer to the town’s citizens. Mr Andersson said the idea of a Somali team playing an essentially Nordic game would help to build a cultural bridge with the town’s 48,000 Swedes.