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Kyrgyz promote ice hockey among youth
Sports meant to draw youth away from drugs, crime
By Asker Sultanov
BISHKEK – Kyrgyzstan is promoting youth ice hockey, hoping society will benefit.
Last year, Kyrgyzstan became the 70th sovereign member of the International Ice Hockey Federation, said Sergey Shavernev, head coach of the Kyrgyzstan Hockey Federation.
“It took no less than 20 years,” Shavernev recalled. “The decision was made in Bratislava at the International Hockey Federation’s annual convention. The Kyrgyz team made its international debut at the 7th Asian Winter Games in Astana, where it got first place in the Men’s Premier Division.”
The Kyrgyz team’s success in Astana inspired the growth of hockey and other sports in Kyrgyzstan.
“Our success at the Asian Games sparked great interest in ice hockey across the country,” Shavernev said. “Now we are expected to go on and win again, and we believe that we can bring this wonderful sport to a new level in Kyrgyzstan.”
Sports promote a healthy lifestyle, “which is especially relevant for the youth of Kyrgyzstan, as they suffer from high crime and drug addiction rates,” he said.
The Kyrgyzstan Hockey Federation began in 2005. President Roza Otunbayeva proposed organising a national hockey team and a club for players.
Hockey became more accessible to the general public three years ago, when some entrepreneurs from Bishkek built three ice rinks.
“The establishment of the City Skating Rink made it possible not only for amateurs to enjoy this sport, but for competitions to be held as well,” said Shavernev.
Kyrgyzstan has the right conditions for hockey to flourish, Shavernev said.
“The conditions in our country are just right for the sport to develop: we have our own ski slopes, as well as a good ice skating rink,” he said.
The Federation has high hopes for the younger generation. Adil Almenov, the coach of the boys’ hockey club Ilbirs, said.
“For the first time we have a boys’ hockey club (established in 2010), where we train boys who were born in 2001 and 2002. In the past we failed to attract enough children to the hockey clubs, but now there is a growing interest in hockey in Kyrgyzstan, and we are currently training 90 boys.”
Almenov hopes the young players will become hockey professionals in the future.
“For the sport to grow, we need, above all, to work with children. Also, we need licensed judges,” he said. “In general, we are determined to move forward.”
The Federation hopes to create a women's hockey team as well, Almenov said. No team exists, but more than enough women are willing to participate.
“Many girls are very interested in hockey and dream of playing this difficult game professionally,” said Begaim Sultanova, a physical education teacher from Bishkek. “My female students’ joy knew no bounds when they found out that they will soon get this opportunity.”
Artyom Ozhogin said he has been a hockey fan for as long as he can remember.
“I just love this sport!” he said. “It's really exciting! As soon as I heard that they were inviting children to join the hockey club, I took my son there without hesitation.”
“My son (Danil) and other kids have been training at Ilbirs for a year and a half now,” Ozhogin said. “Over this period, they have become stronger both physically and mentally. Our children are the first to have had this opportunity, as in Soviet times hockey was not promoted here.”
Hockey will give boys something constructive to do, Ozhogin said.
“Instead of the boys hanging out on the street after classes, it’s better if they go and play hockey instead, which builds character and helps them grow up to be good citizens,” he said.
Ainura Kaseynova, the mother of 9-year-old hockey player Adis, said her son “will not give up hockey for anything and wants to get to the NHL (National Hockey League) and make Kyrgyzstan famous.”
Getting youth involved in hockey brings many benefits, psychologist Natalia Ivashina said.
“After two revolutions and with constant instability in our country, you often come across young people doing God knows what, including drug trafficking, theft, and extremism,” she said. “And it’s all because after school the children have half a day to themselves, their parents are at work, and they have nowhere to go! If hockey – or other sports, for that matter – becomes more widespread in Kyrgyzstan, it will really help protect our youth.”