Angola is betting on the Roller Hockey World Cup to bolster employment and tourism in a country where more than half the population lives in poverty.
The Southern African nation has spent $89 million building three pavilions in the capital, Luanda, and in the towns of Malange and Namibe and a further $17 million for the 41st staging of the tournament that runs from today to Sept. 28. Officials say the 16-nation event, the continent’s first, will boost employment and attract interest from the country’s youth.
“The country will become more known and we’ll have less people taking part in risky behavior such as crime because they’ll be entertained and busy with hockey,” Pedro Azevedo Chipita, deputy coordinator of the organizing committee, said in a Sept. 16 interview in Luanda. “And we’ll create jobs.”
Currently tourists are rare because of a visa system that can take months before entry is granted, while 54 percent of the population lives on less than $1.25 a day, according to the United Nations. The Economy Ministry puts the unemployment rate at more than 20 percent.
Tickets cost the equivalent of $2 to $20 and are good for an entire day’s matches at one location, which could be as many as three games early in the tournament. Paulo Branco, an administrator at the ticket sales company, couldn’t say how many foreigners would visit the country during the competition.
The game, sometimes called quad-hockey in the U.S. for the four-wheel skates used, is played in about 60 countries and was a demonstration sport at the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona. Portugal, which brought the game to Angola during colonial rule, and Spain are the strongest nations with 15 world titles apiece. Italy has four.
Roller hockey’s old-style skates allow greater agility than ball hockey, which is usually played on asphalt using in-line skates. The sticks are more like those used in field hockey than ice hockey.
“This event will help diversify sports in Angola given the recently constructed sports infrastructure,” Chipita said. “You can see there’s roller hockey fever, the city is full of skaters.”
Luanda’s 11,740-seat pavilion was almost sold out earlier this week for today’s opening match between the host and South Africa.
Basketball and soccer are the most popular sports and the country won the African Basketball Championship this year. It hosted soccer’s African Cup of Nations in 2010, building new stadiums in four cities at a cost of $600 million, according to the government. That event was marred by the killing of two members of the Togo squad by separatists in the northern region of Cabinda. About 4,000 police will be on hand for these games, organizers said.
“We hope to achieve fourth place since there are stronger teams,” said Helio Aragao, a spokesman for the organizing committee. “If we can place higher, all the better.”
Angola is in group C with Portugal, Chile and South Africa. France, Germany and Argentina play in group B along with Uruguay, which replaced England. It dropped out of the tournament for financial reasons,
The U.S. competes in group D with Mozambique, Italy, and Colombia, while group A comprises Brazil, Switzerland, Austria and Spain.