Hockey craze to repeat next year

  • 2001-05-10
The 2001 World Championship for the Latvian national ice-hockey team was over a week before the final games are played.

Thousands of Latvian fans have returned from Cologne with throat inflammations from supporting their team and on the streets of Riga some random fan's quack-quack's are still heard.

This spring's hockey craze is over with the Latvian team managing to take a position on the edge of the ice-hockey world elite.

Fans of course are happy but the Latvian Ice-hockey Federation has tough choices to make. The goal put forward to the Latvian team was to take at least 10th place, not shameful last 13th, as it turned out. As a consequence, the team's coach, Latvian national Haralds Vasiljevs, who currently works in Germany, might be replaced. Some players need to be replaced as well, but there are no candidates. As the average age of Latvian players is 30 and extensive network of teams and leagues in the former Soviet Union they grew up with is ruined, a crisis, predicted by some Latvian ice-hockey experts, may come even next year when Latvia will be proud to have its first Olympic hockey team in 66 years.

As to the fans, it has already become a tradition for many to take a week off work during the championship, going to support their team in the host country of the championship, hanging around bars and pubs in Riga watching the games or just laying on the couch at home and watching TV. Young people are particularly active, gathering in crowds long before the game and wandering around yelling and screaming long after it has ended. Ice hockey is a hot topic for every conversation, and if you do not want to be seen as a total outsider, knowing the last games' score and best moments is a must.

Ice hockey so far has been the most successful factor in giving young people a sense of patriotism this country needs so much. The national-oriented political parties should take that into account, when discussing financing of projects related to that game's future in Latvia. Not only rewards to the successful players, but also financing of new ice halls and junior teams.

Otherwise, ice hockey in Latvia will have the same fate as the once top sport bobsleigh which was started by Latvians in the former Soviet Union. After some success in the earlier years of Latvia's independence, without money and support it gradually declined, now bearing only memories about the glorious days of victories and public support in the past.

It's a pity for officials and state budget that Latvia has chosen to be successful in such a comparatively expensive sport as ice hockey. Neighboring Lithuanians, whose national sport is basketball, can be more happy as it requires only a basket and a ball to start with.

However, let's hope that next year will be better than this one for the Latvian ice hockey team and Latvian fans.