No government has done more to modernize their society by introducing more Western culture than the United Arab Emirates. The emirate of Dubai alone has already introduced the desert to indoor skiing, the world’s largest shopping mall, and a Tiger Woods-endorsed golf resort. Now one Canada-loving Emirati has taken the first necessary step in realizing his dream of global UAE hockey dominance.
This unexpected dream comes courtesy of Ali Kaddas, the self-proclaimed “Godfather of Abu Dhabi.” Formed out of an existing informal hockey community, Kaddas founded the Emirates Hockey League, a semi-professional hockey league featuring five expat-laden teams, including the Dubai Mighty Camels and Abu Dhabi Scorpions.
“The idea is for this league to catch on like the soccer league and build support and fan bases,” says Hugo Blomfield, a Canadian player on the Scorpions who works in Abu Dhabi as a real estate development project manager. “The Emiratis love to skate, so the interest is there. I think it will take time, but I’m sure there will be a small but dedicated following. Lots of people want to play hockey here.”
Despite limited promotion, the EHL has started gaining a small fan base and the UAE has become a popular destination for foreign troops looking for a quick game. Even former NHL great Jari Kurri has established his own annual hockey camp in the Emirates. But in what could be the biggest hockey game in UAE history, the EHL’s championship game will be played at the Dubai Mall, the aforementioned world’s largest mall, which features an Olympic-sized hockey rink.
But the EHL is really a springboard for Kaddas’ ultimate dream of building the UAE into an international hockey competitor. After years of practicing and assembling a team, the UAE national team hosted the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) Challenge Cup of Asia and won. But IIHF rules dictate that in order for a national team to be ranked, it must host an IIHF-sanctioned league. Hence, the creation of the EHL. “In general they are good, skilled, well conditioned players, but were never really game tested,” says Blomfield of the national team. “I think they got pretty bored of practicing all the time too.”
If Ali Kaddas has his way, that’s about to change.