So­ma­lis aim to be dandy at bandy

African squad train­ing in Swe­den for ice sport’s world cham­pi­onship

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - SUNDAY SPORTS - By REUTERS in Borlaenge, Swe­den

So­ma­lis on ice skates seems as im­plau­si­ble as Ja­maicans in a bob­sled, but a Swedish-based team is pre­par­ing to rep­re­sent the trou­bled African na­tion at next month’s world cham­pi­onships in the sport of bandy.

Formed just months ago and made up of im­mi­grants who have set­tled in Borlaenge, a town some 200 km north of Stock­holm, the So­ma­lia bandy team is an un­likely tale that has echoes of the 1988 Ja­maican win­ter Olympians im­mor­tal­ized in the film Cool Run­nings.

Re­cruited from a lo­cal soc­cer club, the team has been taught in a short time to skate and play a game sim­i­lar to ice hockey, but with dif­fer­ences.

Bandy is played on a soc­cer­sized field, there are 11 play­ers on each team, a ball is used in­stead of a puck, the goals are larger and the sticks shaped dif­fer­ently.

The learn­ing curve has been steep and long.

But de­spite be­ing thrashed by a lo­cal side in their first com­pet­i­tive game ear­lier this month, the So­ma­lis have cheek­ily de­clared them­selves African cham­pi­ons for 2013 — based pri­mar­ily on the fact that no other coun­try on the con­ti­nent has a team.

“They want to in­spire their brothers and sis­ters that live here in Borlaenge, and all other So­ma­lis and im­mi­grants who live else­where in Swe­den,” said team coach Pelle Fosshaug, who won six Swedish bandy ti­tles and was crowned world cham­pion five times with Swe­den dur­ing his play­ing ca­reer.

“That is what we want to do, and I be­lieve we’ve al­ready started to do it.”

Swe­den, Fin­land, the for­mer Soviet re­publics, Canada and the US are con­sid­ered the game’s strong­est footholds.

So­ma­lia, im­prob­a­bly, is set to join Ja­pan, Ukraine and Ger­many in the B group at the world cham­pi­onships in Irkutsk, one step be­low the elite na­tions.

The idea of a So­ma­lian team came from Pa­trik An­der­s­son, a lo­cal en­tre­pre­neur, who saw it as a way to help in­te­grate some 3,000 So­ma­lis res­i­dents of the town.

He con­tacted the So­mali gov­ern­ment and the Olympic com­mit­tee as he sought a way for sport to help the new ar­rivals set­tle in the Swedish town — and to help the Swedes learn more about So­ma­lia.

“I reg­is­tered the team with the Fed­er­a­tion of In­ter­na­tional Bandy and got in touch with the gov­ern­ment and the Olympic com­mit­tee in So­ma­lia to get their per­mis­sion to do this. So­ma­lia has never had a team in a world cham­pi­onships, not in any team sport,” he said.

“Many have come in a short time and it’s not easy for them to get jobs. There is a lot of seg­re­ga­tion. They live in two ar­eas in par­tic­u­lar and have a hard time get­ting into the la­bor mar­ket.”

To help bring the Swedes and So­ma­lis to­gether, An­der­s­son ap­proached a lo­cal soc­cer club with a lot of So­mali play­ers and asked them if they would like to play bandy, and the idea of a So­mali na­tional team was born.

The team is al­ready a source of great pride to many in the lo­cal So­mali com­mu­nity, who packed the rick­ety wooden stands on a freez­ing night to wave their flags and see their team play its first game against a lo­cal side.

Though they were on the wrong end of a 15-0 drub­bing, there is a wide­spread be­lief that the team can im­prove.

“Th­ese play­ers only started play­ing five months ago, and some of th­ese guys have been in Swe­den for less than a year,” said Said Ali, who trav­eled to Borlaenge from Stock­holm to film and pho­to­graph the his­toric game.

So­mali goal­keeper Ahmed, voted man of the match, said he was dis­ap­pointed with the re­sult but that his team had played “OK” for their first out­ing.

“We want to win at all costs, but we’re look­ing for­ward to the world cham­pi­onships,” he said, be­fore re­veal­ing that he first put on a pair of ice skates just three months ago.

An­der­s­son is well aware of the strong feel­ings of pa­tri­o­tism among the So­ma­lis, and said not ev­ery­one in the town is be­hind the ini­tia­tive.

“There’s a lot of their coun­try­men who say ‘What are you up to? You’re mak­ing a show of your­selves!’ It’s not easy for them.”

Borlaenge is some­thing of a bandy strong­hold and lo­cal fans are warm­ing to the team.

“It’s get­ting bet­ter and bet­ter,” says An­der­s­son. “There are those who are against it, I’ll be hon­est about that, but I feel we have great sup­port.”

JONATHAN NACKSTRAND / AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

So­mali play­ers work on bal­ance dur­ing their bandy team’s train­ing ses­sion on Sept 24 in Borlaenge, Swe­den. So­ma­lis in Swe­den have formed a na­tional bandy team to rep­re­sent their coun­try in the up­com­ing world cham­pi­onships in the Irkutsk, Rus­sia.

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