An interview with Charles El-Mir, Lebanese Ice Hockey Federation president based in Montreal, Canada.
Ice hockey — one of the most popular sports — is played at the Olympic Games. Today hockey is a major sport, especially in North America where it is a multi-billion-dollar industry.
When we think of hockey, Canada immediately comes to mind. Canadian hockey players express their pride wearing the maple leaf jersey. As of late, Lebanon has been trying its hand at the sport and shooting pucks.
Famous Lebanese athletes mainly play basketball or football. Since 2018, Lebanon has an ice hockey team based in Montreal.
On April 2017, Lebanon’s ice hockey team played its first game in history against Team Haiti (and won!) at Arena Raymond Bourque in Montreal. It was a surprisingly successful event, attracting around 1,000 ice hockey fans.
Since then, the Lebanese ice hockey team participated in various exhibition games and tournaments locally and internationally against competitors from Belarus, Germany, Algeria, Morocco, Egypt, Philippines, Tunisia, and the United Arab Emirates.
In April 2018, the Lebanese ice hockey team achieved the Silver Medal in the Arab Cup, which was held in Abu Dhabi.
They also participated in the Lebanese Diaspora Energy (LDE) event in September 2018, playing the opening-exhibition game at McGill University ice rink.
The team is in its second year now. Most of the players are Canadian-born young men and women of Lebanese descent. “Sport activities are the best way to reunite people without including religion or politics,” says Charles El-Mir, the founder and president of the young Lebanese Ice Hockey Federation.
The Lebanese Ice Hockey Federation oversees the Lebanese local and international ice hockey teams and development program of adults and youth. The federation also manages the Lebanese national team at international tournaments and exhibition games.
From its base in Montreal, the Lebanese Ice Hockey Federation coordinates its activities with Lebanese and Canadian governmental organizations such as the Lebanese Olympic Committee, the Lebanese Embassy in Canada and the Canadian Embassy in Lebanon. As of September 26, 2019, the Lebanese Ice Hockey Federation became a member of the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF), which allows the federation to take part in official IIHF world tournaments and championships. “The next step is to build the first rink in Lebanon,” says El-Mir.
El-Mir stresses on the team’s link to Lebanon and mentions, “We strongly believe in promoting positive change within the Lebanese communities as well as improving the global impression of Lebanon. We intend to represent Lebanon in a positive light on an international stage through ice hockey.”
He adds, “We are in the process of bringing Lebanese families back to their roots and HOMEland through their connection with the Lebanese hockey team. We are also encouraging them to update their citizenship status through the consulates and embassies where they are residing.”
The Lebanese Ice Hockey Federation board is composed of professionals, leaders, university graduates, and entrepreneurs who generously invest their time and efforts to the game. One thing they share is a strong drive to popularize the sport in Lebanon. Overall, the board rallies behind the idea of making Lebanon into a hockey-loving nation.
Short-term objectives include becoming a member of the Lebanese Olympic Committee (LOC) in order to compete in the 2020 Asia Cup and 2021 Asia Winter Games.
In the long term, the Lebanese Ice Hockey Federation is looking at building a sports center, containing an ice hockey rink, training facilities, and gym. The complex will be designed for players to train as well as for hockey games and events to be held in Lebanon. With these advancements, a Lebanese hockey team playing in the Winter Olympic Games could become a reality.
Last but not least, the first Lebanese women’s hockey team was launched in December 2018, constituting the third Arab female hockey team.
The team is comprised of more than 15 players of Lebanese origin. While most come from across Canada, some recruits hail from the United States. In a positive turnout for the fledgling squad, 30 women have registered for the tryouts in Ottawa in August 2019.
Women of the team (aged from 15 to 38) are active players in their respective high school hockey clubs and are part of, for the first time, a team representing Lebanon. The team is currently fundraising to fulfill their aim of becoming a part of the 2121 Olympics.
The most famous player of all time is the Canadian player Wayne Gretzky, nicknamed “the great one.” Maybe another great one is training in Montreal right now, and it could be a Lebanese woman. Go! Go! Go! Team Lebanon!