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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Any Expats for a Bruising Game of Broomball?

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Broomball hasn't changed much in 25 years. The rules are the same, the homemade sticks are the same, and the people, roughly speaking, are the same.

The players — more than 200 expatriate men and women on 21 teams — still end up black and blue after games. And the competitive spirit, which has at times been mistaken for violence, that puts people on the ice Saturday mornings and Wednesday evenings every winter, has hardly waned.

"You do fall down a lot, but that's why we have all that equipment on," said Ross Weaver, a nine-year veteran of the sport.

There are a few more teams in the league since the first game was played in 1976 at a time when the majority of Moscow's Western expatriates were here on embassy, rather than corporate, business. Each team, several still grouped by nationality, now boasts jerseys emblazoned with logos from corporate sponsors. Some teams have even adopted their company's name.

The game was the inspiration of a Canadian ex-hockey player who was holed up in his embassy with little to do in wintertime after work. Broomball resembles hockey, but with no skates, a plastic ball instead of a puck, and a rule in the rulebook that says only expats can play.

Initially, keeping Russians off the ice was justified for security reasons given that games are played on embassy territory. Yet in post-Soviet Russia, some players hint that an all-Russian team would pummel the competition.

"Maybe the teams are afraid that the Russians would be too good," said Anne Vingaard, who has played for six years.



"I personally would welcome the Russians. My only issue with the Russians is that they have a larger pool to draw from and we'd end up playing against professional hockey players," said Steve Tursi, a chef at the U.S. Embassy and a 10-year broomball veteran.

Broomball Moscow-style is slightly different than the version played in North America. Games are played on tennis courts, rather than hockey rinks , at the German Embassy, the British ambassador's residence and the Moscow Golf Club. Sticks are shorter and made from veniki, or the bundles of birch twigs that serve as brooms. And there is a particularly formidable social aspect to the game, with stick-making parties, chicken-wing eating contests and the annual Broomball Ball, a black-tie affair that this year falls on March 17.

The evening includes best player awards, a buffet, open bar and live music, which can last until 5 a.m. The event closes the curtain until the next season, when players will again don hockey masks and rubber-soled shoes specially ordered from Canada.

The extravaganza costs some $30,000, with corporate sponsors donating to a lottery that raises several thousand dollars. Proceeds from this year's event will benefit children's charities Love's Bridge, which helps orphans in Moscow, and the Children's Rehabilitation Center, which benefits sick children in St. Petersburg.

The constant turnover of team members means that league standings vary each season. The Schering Plough U.S. men's team claimed the title this year and the women's title comes down to a playoff this week between the German and Danish/Swedish teams.

The league offers the chance for expats to socialize. League president Lauri Veijalainen said he's been to several business meetings when the person on the other side was someone he'd played against. "It's obviously much easier when you have this."