Bernier is part of the select group of young men representing Tunisia in international ice hockey competitions. The team, in addition to its bronze medal performance in Abu Dhabi, won the African Ice Hockey Championship in 2016. Members of the team, mostly Tunisians who have lived most of their lives abroad, are looking not to just win now but also build a foundation for the future. They are focusing on one day establishing the winter sport in their motherland and eventually competing in the Winter Olympics.


The team’s origins go back to 2007, when Ihab Ayed, a Tunisian who was born and raised in France, began scouring the internet for other Tunisian ice hockey players. He searched social media for players with Tunisian last names: Kobbi, Ben Amor, Ben Salem. Seven years later, Ayed had put together a squad, which included Bernier, and they all competed in Courbevoie, France, Ayed’s hometown. The team lost, but even without a scoreboard victory, the significance of the moment outweighed the loss.


“There was a lot of emotion. It was the first time in my life that I heard the Tunisian national anthem before a hockey game. I was crying, thinking about when I was young,” Achraf Znaki, the only Tunisian-born player on the team, told Al-Monitor.


Ayed feels now, however, that Minister of Youth and Sports Majdouline Cherni is willing to support the team. He told Al-Monitor that a 15-minute meeting with her in March turned into a 45-minute conversation. She expressed her support and then called the president of the Tunisian Olympic committee in front of Ayed and asked him if he would also help. Some 650 kilograms of donated hockey equipment has already made its way through customs and is waiting to be used at the first hockey academy for young Tunisians, which will be hosted at a small ice rink in Tunis. But Ayed’s ambitions go further; he would love to see a full-size ice hockey rink in the capital.


Source: www.al-monitor.com