Breaking the ice: Israel-UAE hockey match makes history
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In the world of ice hockey, the Bat Yam Chiefs and Dubai Mighty Camels are big unknowns. Yet both clubs have written a little page of history in recent days, taking part in the first sports match between teams from Israel and the United Arab Emirates.
The Israeli city of Bat Yam, south of Tel Aviv, on the shores of the Mediterranean, is better known for its sandy beaches, an idyllic climate and its retired Mossad agents, than for its ice hockey club.
Indeed, Bat Yam doesn't even have an ice rink.
Yet the town does have The Chiefs -- the same name as the failing team that finds success in the 1970s film Slap Shot, a comedy classic for ice hockey -- which played two matches last week against the Mighty Camels in Dubai.
Before this agreement, cyclists with dual nationality -- including Israeli -- had already travelled to the Emirates.
They even received the blessing of Gary Bettman, commissioner of The National Hockey League (NHL).
"We are proud of the fact that hockey can bring people together," Bettman said, in a video message, in which he sent "greetings for this most historic occasion... the first professional match between a team from Israel and a team from the Emirates."
Hockey in Jerusalem?
"The attitude was friendly because it was the first match between teams from the two countries," Josh Greenberg, co-organiser of the matches and a player for The Chiefs, told AFP.
Bat Yam Chiefs won both the games.
After the "first leg", the Israeli club now wants to welcome their sporting rivals for a return match.
"Eventually the Dubai Camels will come to Israel to play a game here," said Greenberg, an Israeli from the United States. "There is no timeline yet -- it all depending on Covid."
Israel currently has three ice hockey arenas -- in Holon, where the Bat Yam Chiefs train near Tel Aviv, Metula in the north of Israel and a new ice rink in Tvunot near Jerusalem - but Greenberg thinks even bigger.
"I have a dream that it will be in Jerusalem ...it makes perfect sense to me for an Israeli team to play the Dubai team in Jerusalem in a 10,000-seat stadium," he said.
In 2017, during the Maccabiah Games, a competition bringing together Jewish athletes from around the world, ice hockey matches were played in the middle of July at Jerusalem's Pais Arena, a multi-sport hall with 11,000 seats with a refrigeration system to create an indoor ice rink.
"If you bring both these teams... you are going to have many different people who'd love to see it," he said.
"You would have Jews, Arabs, North Americans, Russians... There is no doubt in my mind we can fill the place up."
Greenberg also wants to "play in other countries".
"Morocco is definitely in mind."