The Bat Yam Chiefs will travel to Dubai for the historic first game between Israeli and Arab ice hockey teams.
By Yakir Benzion, United With Israel
Soccer might be Israel’s national sport, but the first team heading to the United Arab Emirates to play a friendly series against a Dubai team will be the champions of Israel’s ice hockey league, the Bat Yam Chiefs.
“The Israeli Hockey team from Bat Yam will be making history, and will boldly go where no other Israeli sports team has ever gone before – The United Arab Emirates,” the Emirates Hockey Association posted on their Facebook page.
The team is due to fly to Dubai on Dec. 16 and play two exhibition games against the home team Dubai Mighty Camels, before returning to Israel Dec. 20.
The Bat Yam hockey team is one of the original teams in Israel’s national league, playing its first season in 1990 and they are the current reigning champions in Israel.
The team is comprised of hockey players from diverse backgrounds, half of the team are “sabras” born in Israel, while others are olim (immigrants) from the U.S., Canada and former Soviet Union.
“The team is a mix of a variety of cultures, backgrounds, and styles,” says team member Josh Greenberg, who moved to Israel as a kid from Los Angeles and is a member of Israel’s senior national team, adding that only one team member had tested positive for coronavirus and would have to sit out.
“We’re looking good [for the games],” he added.
The Dubai Mighty Camels is one of the original teams in Dubai’s league, that got its start in 1994 and has been Emirates champion four times.
“These will be the first games between our two countries”, said Vladimir Burdun, President of the Emirates Sports Association, “and we are hoping to establish a long and lasting relationship, as well as a bright future in the midst of a global crisis that has befallen us all.”,
“Being a resident of the Middle East for the past 25 years, if there is one thing that I have taken away from it, is the importance of friendship between the various countries that make up the Middle East. Ice hockey is just one of the things that brings us closer together, and that is extremely important in my point of view,” Burdun added.
Hockey got started in Israel when the first tiny rink opened in 1986. Israel joined the International Ice Hockey Federation in 1991 and has been playing annually in world championships ever since, except for this year during the pandemic when all tournaments were canceled.
Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates all belong to the IIHF, but due to political considerations were grouped separately and have never confronted Israel on the ice.
In the past three decades Team Israel has played in ice hockey tournaments around the world, being ambassadors of goodwill in countries as far away as South Africa, Mexico, South Korea and New Zealand.
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