Iran goes on ice
by Martin Merk|24 FEB 2016
From left to right: Amir Sedighi and Nasser Talebi from the National Olympic Committee of the Islamic Republic of Iran with IIHF President Rene Fasel and IIHF Council Member Zsuzsanna Kolbenheyer at Kristins Hall in Lillehammer.
photo: Martin Merk
The Youth Olympic Games connect people and countries. This is not only true between athletes but also between sports officials and organizations. 

Last week, representatives from Iran met with the IIHF to discuss the possibilities of establishing ice hockey in one of the largest countries in the Middle East. 

With the recent international nuclear agreement and sanctions against the country lifted, Iran is expected to open up, so the timing to talk about new sports is just fitting. 

During the 2016 Winter Youth Olympic Games Nasser Talebi, Chef de Mission of the Iranian team at the Youth Olympics, and his consultant Amir Sedighi met with IIHF President Rene Fasel and other representatives to talk about ice hockey in the country. 

“I really appreciated to have the opportunity to talk with the IIHF and its President Rene Fasel. It’s a pleasure for us and hopefully in the future we will have much more hockey activities,” said Talebi, who is also the President of the Iranian Ski Federation but was asked to use the opportunity to speak with the IIHF in Lillehammer. 

“Our colleagues who are running ice hockey in Iran asked us to talk on their behalf with the International Ice Hockey Federation about possible co-operation and how to become member,” said Sedighi. 

“Now as we have three ice rinks in Iran, people start to become interested in the sport. We really want to improve and develop it and bring winter sports to the next level. We have teams that are playing and practising ice hockey. The sport is active in Iran.” 

Iran was represented at the Youth Olympics by one male and one female athlete, Alireza Ahmadpour and Ava Javadi, both alpine skiers. 

Snow sports have been practised for a long time in the country. British paper The Guardian calls skiing Iran’s biggest secret and the New York Post has compared the ski scene to the Alps. Ice hockey on the other hand is new in Iran, although inline hockey and field hockey have been played before. For decades the country didn’t have an ice rink but that has changed in the last three years. 

In the capital of Tehran, a metropolis with 16 million inhabitants in the region, an ice rink was opened in the Aramis Sports Complex. Other rinks are located in a new entertainment complex in the second-largest city of Mashhad in the northeast of the country close to the border with Turkmenistan with roughly 2.8 million inhabitants, and a small one in a shopping mall on Kish, an island in the Persian Gulf and one of the most visited places in Iran thanks to a free trade zone and visa-free entry for foreign tourists. 

“We’d really love to join the big ice hockey family. I hope we can become members and participate in ice hockey competitions in Asia. Iran is a huge country in Asia, we have a population of almost 80 million. Iran can be a really great destination for ice hockey. That’s why we want to work with the IIHF to have a vision for ice hockey in Iran,” Talebi said and also mentioned the 12,000-seat multifunctional Azadi Indoor Stadium that was built for the 1974 Asian Games and could potentially be used for international ice hockey events. 

While not everybody may think about ice hockey in Iran at first due to the hot summers, it can be said that some areas of Iran have cold winters too. Winters in Tehran tend to be slightly colder than in Hamburg, and the winter temperatures in Mashhad resemble the ones of Stockholm. That’s also where one of the most famous hockey players of Iranian descent, the Ottawa Senators’ Mika Zibanejad, grew up. 

“We have had skiing in Iran for 70 years so it’s time to also develop other winter sports. Iran is a huge country, we have cities that have -25°C now and others that have +25°C now. We can have summer and winter sports at the same time,” Talebi said. 

From Iran’s over 30 provinces only three have ice hockey right now while according to Talebi 20 provinces have winters and snow. 

“We don’t have a championship yet but we have around 100 to 120 players, men and women, and it’s a new policy of Iran to improve winter sports, especially Olympic sports,” Talebi said about the start for the sport.