Mozambicans defy odds to play roller hockey

Maputo (AFP) –


The Red Star roller hockey team was training hard, undeterred by the heat and their run-down surroundings.

They listened intently before fanning out across the flaky wooden floor, whizzing seamlessly on their busted skates to take up positions for a five-a-side game.

"I feel very happy when I play hockey. I feel at ease, I feel comfortable," said 12-year old player Mandra Jose Orlando Julai Laquece, gripping his fractured stick.

"I would like to play professionally."

Around him paint peeled off the walls, the ceiling was ridden with holes and shabby nets barely clung to their posts.

In aid-dependant Mozambique, roller hockey -- also known as rink hockey -- is as popular as soccer and basketball.

Introduced by the Portuguese during the colonial era, enthusiasm for the sport survived the fight for independence, a 17-year civil war and countless natural disasters.

The country took part in its first international competition in 1978, three years after independence.

"It became an addiction which is embedded in our Mozambican blood," Red Star coach Zefanias Jose Taimo told AFP.

But he added that funding was a struggle.

"We are doing our best in order to keep all sports in general running, and rink hockey in particular."

It is the motivation of his teens, who show up twice a week for practice, that keeps 59-year old Taimo going.

"My friends told me there was a place where I could train and that?s how I came here," said 13-year old Romeo Nhacada Dimande, who put on his first pair of skates at age five.

"I love skating, I?ve been skating since when I was just a little child, that's the reason why I like to play rink hockey".

Mozambique's national under-19 team came third at a major international tournament in Barcelona this year.

It is "one tradition we (Mozambicans) don't let go of", said Taimo.