July 23 - Italy and Norway became the first two countries to take advantage of the International Paralympic Committee's (IPC) Ice Sledge Hockey's Ottobock equipment loaner programme, which provides equipment to interested countries or Ice Hockey federations to help develop the sport at a grassroots level.
IPC Ice Sledge Hockey has a two-year partnership with worldwide Paralympic partner Ottobock to develop the sport through this programme, by providing nations with sledges for either six month or one year terms.
The Italian Ice Sport Federation and Norwegian Ice Hockey Federation have become the first two organisations to take advantage and it is hoped that many more will soon follow in their footsteps.
Both Italy and Norway already have established national teams that contend for medals each year at major international events, but they are looking to add more depth to their respective programmes.
Italy have 56 registered ice sledge hockey players, but they are all located in just four areas in the north of the country - Varese, Bolzano, Turin and Pontebba.
The aim is to bring the sport to a wider audience and, for instance, eight sledges will be allocated to Rome and Bergamo for one year.
In comparison there are 80 registered Norwegian ice sledge hockey players, with a development programme that includes seven club teams.
Norway will receive 12 sledges on loan for one year, which will be used to help establish another club team and to host development camps during the 2013-2014 season.
Espen Hegde, project leader from the Norwegian Ice Hockey Federation, said: "The programme will enable the Norwegian Ice Hockey Federation to reach new potential athletes through different kinds of try-out events like training camps and tournaments.
"Moreover, we will have the opportunity to provide our respective club teams with sledges if they discover someone with interest in trying the sport.
"We truly hope and believe that the Ottobock equipment loaner programme will have a positive effect on the development of ice sledge hockey in Norway."
The corresponding figure from the Italian Ice Sport Federation, Massimo Bernardoni, viewed the project similarly: "Our goal is to bring ice sledge hockey to at least six of Italy's regions, but also to help enhance the other programmes that already exist in certain regions.
"For next season we have scheduled two demonstration days in Trentino and in Rome, where, thanks to Ottobock, we will have sledges for the new athletes.
"We will provide free sledges and equipment for those who want to try it out.
"Another objective is to promote ice sledge hockey among children with spina-bifida.
"Most of the Italian athletes who play ice sledge hockey at this time are amputees, and we believe we can bring more athletes with other impairments as well."
The Ottobock equipment loaner programme also aims to increase the number of
athletes and rehabilitation centres practicing the sport, as well as to increase the number of people with impairments who regularly take part in the sport.
Gunter Roper, manager at Ottobock Mobility Solutions, said: "As a partner of the IPC, Ottobock is contributing its technical know-how and the enthusiasm of its employees to athletes around the world.
"We are pleased to help bring the highly attractive sport of ice sledge hockey to more countries, establishing a broad basis for this fast-paced game."
IPC Ice Sledge Hockey selects the National Paralympic Committees or organisations who apply for participation in the programme and co-ordinates the distribution of equipment, which is supplied and maintained by Ottobock.
The initiative will also influence emerging ice sledge hockey countries to host public events to create further awareness for the sport, it is claimed.
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