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Hockey: Moving towards better days in Africa

Abuja 10/01/2019 (NAN) For a sport played on various surfaces, especially those that may be difficult to afford in putting in place, the growing passion for hockey in Africa is somewhat interesting.

Expectedly, field hockey being the version of the sport being played on a turf has been the most appealing to African athletes who seem not to be deterred by the situation.

Rather, they are now enjoying the « ball and stick » game on sand, gravel, concrete and more.

But, while an apparent lack of equipment and facilities is proving to be the bane of hockey in Africa now, the problem does not end there.

The failure of hockey-playing countries to send teams to international events has meant there is now a reduction in the growth rate of the sport’s player-base, as well as followership.

This seems to have set Seif Ahmed, the President of Africa Hockey Federation (AfHF), thinking and made the federation to put in place some plans for the coming years.

Ahmed, who was at the Africa Cup for Club Championships (ACCC) held in Abuja from Dec. 15 to Dec. 22, said the competition would set Africa on the way to glory.

The championships witnessed eight days of an exciting display by clubs, and Ahmed thinks it was evident the continent cannot wait to demonstrate her prowess at a World Club Championships.

The continental showpiece, which was in its 30th edition, ended with Telkom Ladies of Kenya emerging victors in the women event and El-Sharkia of Egypt in the men’s event.

Both teams showed great expertise from the tournament’s commencement and it was no shock they were rewarded with the titles.

After watching the performance of the 12 clubs from four countries at the Abuja National Stadium, Ahmed revealed that there were plans to organise a world club championships.

« Members of various federations from the continents and those of us who hold positions in the International Hockey Federation (FIH) are pushing the world body to organise the World Club Championships, » the former hockey player said.

« This will be an avenue for all clubs in Africa to participate in its continental event as it would serve as qualifiers for the world stage. But we are still working on achieving that. »

The competition in Abuja was lauded by the AfHF, but Ahmed notwithstanding reminded the Nigerian hosts of her sub-standard turf and the need for an improvement.

Stressing on the need for stadium maintenance and upgrade, the former Egyptian Olympic Committee member said Nigeria cannot host a senior international event with its present turf.

He said the country can only host a junior tournament because the Abuja National Stadium’s astro-turf hockey pitch, which is presently the country’s best, was not up to the required standard.

Ahmed even pointed out that the problem of facilities is not in Nigeria alone.

He said a more appalling situation is in the fact that of all 25 member-nations of AfHF only one country can boast of something.

« With the exception of South Africa, no other nation has a turf certified by the International Hockey Federation (FIH), » the AfHF president said.

However, while listing the federation’s efforts at redeeming the situation, Ahmed appealed to governments of AfHF member-nations to help provide quality playing surfaces and improve upon existing ones.

He said this was highly necessary for the survival of the game.

While the sport has undoubtedly continued to gain more players and fans, the AfHF president seemed not to be satisfied.

Ahmed is even more worried with the standard of the game, and assured that plans were underway to improve the situation.

« Though I am happy with the standard and where we are now, but we are still far away from where we should be when compared to the world standard.

« In terms of speed, tactics and techniques, it is different.

« But we will work hard in 2019 and 2020 and ensure we run coaching courses around Africa. I have already invited a coach from Germany to teach our coaches new hockey techniques and tactics, » he said.

But the continental body is also worried about member-federations’ low level of participation in its tournaments.

Ahmed disclosed that it would consequently not accept more countries into its fold for a few reasons.

« I became president of AfHF when there were 15 member-nations in the federation. Now, we are 25 and another five is intending to make us 30.

« But we will not increase the number more than that for two reasons. First, we need the new countries like Togo, Sierra Leone, Cameroon and more to participate in our competitions.

« Second, most African nations are not financially buoyant enough to play our sport. Hockey is an expensive game when you check the cost of stick, turf, kits and more.

« Until we are able to outlive these challenges, we will not accept any other nation at the moment. »

So, with adequate funding as one of the sport’s challenges, the AfHF President disclosed that the body would soon sign a contract with a notable company to deal with the problem.

Hockey fans across the continent can therefore only wish for an improving and more exciting game in coming years.(NANFeatures)