Underwater hockey: quirky sport makes a splash in the UAE

Sport invented by the British navy in the 1950s is now recognised by the International Olympic Committee

Forget about the artificial pitch and hold the ice – sports lovers in the UAE are diving into action with hockey played under water.

The unconventional version of the game was developed in the 1950s by Britain's Royal Navy as a way to keep their divers fit and improve their ability to work under water.

The sport has always been rather niche, and although it is recognised by the International Olympic Committee, it is yet to join field and ice hockey at the global sporting event.

But it continues to grow in popularity – including in the Emirates.

Lewis Cocks, 31, a British citizen who lives in Abu Dhabi, began playing the sport while he was at university in Plymouth in the UK and admits it can be hard to picture for those who have not seen it.

“It’s a very fast-paced, intense, energetic sport. You play with a puck, which weighs two kilograms, and that sits on the bottom of the pool,” he said.

“You flick the puck, maybe a metre off the ground and it may travel two metres or three metres if you’re lucky.”

It is played by two teams of six people in a pool between two and four metres deep.

Players have to hold their breath for 10 to 30 seconds at a time and be sure not to come up for air too early, or too late.

They do that through a snorkel, and wear fins on their feet to propel them through the water.

Players say you need good stamina and free-diving skills to do well in the sport. But once you start you quickly improve.

Mr Cocks played regularly in the UK before moving to Saudi Arabia, where he lived for six years setting up aquariums for the ultra wealthy, including members of the royal family.

He now lives in Abu Dhabi, where he works as aquarium superviser at The National Aquarium, which is opening soon.

“After I came here I then find out a team in Dubai played it,” he said.

“I twisted my ankle playing football and I needed something a bit different to get active again, so I joined these guys in Dubai. I still had my gear with me all these years.

“And even though I hadn’t played in a long time I was still pretty good. I held my own against those guys. So I decided to start a team in Abu Dhabi.”

Abu Dhabi's Ducks take to water

At first they played in his compound pool, but it was badly lit and fairly unsuitable for the sport.

But in June his team, called the Abu Dhabi Ducks Underwater Hockey Club, managed to secure a slot at the Al Jazeera Diving and Swimming Centre.

It has since grown considerably, and the group now has two sessions a week and sponsors.

“Lewis asked me if I was interested in underwater hockey and my first answer was absolutely,” said Kathleen Russell, who owns Al Mahara Dive Centre, one of the club's sponsors.

“I said I am happy to do some sponsorship to get some team equipment, whatever it takes to get this off the ground.

“It’s a good team sport.”

Updated: September 24th 2021, 4:43 AM
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