Four-fifths of Turkmenistan is covered by the Karakum Desert and snow is a rare sight, but President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov is still determined to see his nation embrace ice hockey.In a meeting this week of Cabinet officials and provincial governors, the president ordered a nationwide ice hockey competition be held on April 7. Figure skating demonstrations should also be held on the side, he said.True enough, it may be freezing right now, but temperatures will likely have returned to a comfortably warm glow by April.Organizing the competition should not be too hard in the capital, Ashgabat, which has two ice sports complexes – a 10,000-seater and smaller venue for 1,000 spectators. In recent years, Ashgabat has also been endowed with a winter sports school, complete with four youth hockey teams and around 100 figure skaters.But what about the regions, where there isn’t even the smallest ice hockey venue?Disregarding that minor inconvenience, officials rushed out to fulfill the president’s demands. The government’s Neutral Turkmenistan newspaper excitedly announced the news in a February 8 article headlined “Turkmenistan Shall Have Winter Sports!”The article states in no uncertain terms that the “national ice hockey team will take part in major international competitions, including world championships.” And “before too long, ice hockey and figure skating champions will bring back medals and glory to independent and neutral Turkmenistan.”Turkmen sportsmen have never taken part in any Winter Olympics and have yet to win any medals in the Summer Olympics, so that’s quite a prediction. Moreover, Turkmen competitors returned from the 2010 Asian Games in Guangzhou, China, without a single medal – the first time that has happened since the country began taking part in 1994.Berdymukhamedov, who has professed a great love of sports and is passionate about showing off his horse-riding skills, appears to be taking the disappointment in stride. Last month, he ordered a skiing slope built in the Kopet-Dag Mountains overlooking Ashgabat.
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