Bringing hockey to the desert

Turkmenistan's autocratic president is obsessed with the game

Bringing hockey to the desert


Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, the president of Turkmenistan, would make a great NHL general manager. He’s a dictator with a history of extravagant, illogical spending. And despite great wealth, mostly from oil and gas, he has failed to lift his country (read team) up the UN standings for health and human achievement.

It is fitting then that hockey appears to be Berdymukhamedov’s newest obsession. The Central Asian autocrat has ordered his government ministries to start their own hockey teams. He appeared recently at a youth hockey tournament in the capital of Ashgabat, decked out in full gear, flaunting his 54-year-old vigour.

The apparent goal is to make Turkmenistan—a largely desert state where summertime temperatures top 45° C—a hockey power. Critics might suggest the country, where poverty remains endemic, could find better uses for its money than pricey indoor rinks. But great hockey minds never listen to the critics. Just ask Brian Burke.

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