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Hockey Showcases Its Power To Do Good

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As we prepare for a summer of high class hockey, starting in London as some of the best teams in the world contest the men’s and women’s Champions Trophies and then in Rio, where the Olympic hockey medallists will be crowned, it is easy to overlook the other end of the hockey spectrum –the grassroots game. But there is so much going on in this area of hockey and it is important that we recognise the work of some of the unsung heroes who are using the sport as a tool for social improvement.

Hockey is a sport that prides itself on transcending gender, age and, increasingly, social class. It is a game that can be enjoyed on a sandy, rubble-strewn pitch as much as it can on a smooth artificial pitch. It is also a sport that, alongside so many other sports, is a tool used to promote healthy lifestyles and well-being within communities. The work going on around the international community is living proof that hockey can bring people together, overcome social problems and help educate people to live better, healthier lives.

Let’s take a quick look at some of the good work being carried out by the hockey community across the continents.

One Thousand Hockey Legs is a project based in India that introduces hockey to school kids. It's a programme that was started by the K Arumugam, the founder of the non-governmental organisation Hockey Citizen Group, with the aim of providing children with an opportunity to understand, play and enjoy hockey. The programme structure includes forming one or two teams per school, conducting friendly matches between schools, forming a team in each city, participating in state and national level competitions, holding exhibition matches, organising an annual hockey run and mentoring talent for the national team

The sub-plot of One Thousand Hockey Legs is to help lift disadvantaged children out of poverty and give them an opportunity for a better life. It’s mission statement says “Our vision is to provide a career for underprivileged kids (11-15), an opportunity to play sport in their school thereby ensuring they attend school regularly and take an interest in sport and academics.”

The idea behind the project can be traced back to 2008 when India failed to qualify for the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Arumugam founded the Hockey Citizen Group, and One Thousand Legs was the first project under that umbrella. The passionate hockey fan’s aim was to start raising the level of hockey in the country from the grassroots upwards.

Explaining in greater depth just what One Thousand Legs hopes to achieve, Arumugam says: “The chief target of the NGO is to bring 500 new kids into hockey in each city in India. The idea is to start and then run hockey teams in at least 25 schools in each city.” Currently, OTHLs is working with teachers in 80 schools across five cities.

This target has already been reached in Delhi, and an additional target was met when three young players from Delhi were selected to play in the 2015 Junior National Championships.

“It is an uphill task, but so far, we have introduced about 2,400 children to the sport.”said Arumugam, who received the Hockey India Outstanding Achievement of the Year award in 2014.

Haiti was struck by a devastating earthquake six years ago, with 160,000 people losing their lives and a further 1.5 million people displaced. The Caribbean island has been rebuilding communities ever since. While repairing buildings, re-installing water supplies and getting the infrastructure of the country up and running again has been the main priority, the health and welfare of the population remainsa concern to both the government and aid agencies. Providing sporting activities isone way that this rebuilding process helps to teach young people how to live a healthy and social lives, and it is why the hockey tournaments organised by the Sports Centre for Hope are playing such an important aspect of the country’s healing process.

Boney Georges, programme planning officer at the Sports Centre for Hope, explained that physical education does not appear on the curriculum of most schools on the island, only pupils at the very largest schools haveaccess to sporting facilities and opportunities. The Hope Sports Centre helps communities regain some control over their lives as well as showing them how to live a healthy lifestyle through sport.

When the International Hockey Federation (FIH) Targeted Assisted Programme (TAP) was launched in West Africa in 2014, it had six aims, including: raising the standard of umpiring and coaching throughout Ghana and neighbouring countries; for the Ghana women’s national team to qualify for a world level event by 2022; and to deliver more equipment and resources to the West African region.

The TAP project is part of FIH’s global initiative to drive forwards sustainable projects by working in partnership with continental and national associations. In the case of West Africa, this involved a joint venture between England Hockey, UK Sport, the African Hockey Federation and the Ghana Hockey Association

By June 2015, 39 Level One and Level Two coaches from Ghana, Sierra Leone, Senegal, Togo, Cote D’Ivoire, Burkina Faso and Nigeria had all been accredited. In the same time scale, 21 umpires had also received their training.

In addition, at the 2015 EuroHockey Championships, 1,200 sticks were collected and sent to the TAP organisers.

Ghana women will be competing in this year’s Hockey World League Round One and, if all plans come into place –will be hosting the event in September on a new artificial surface.

Over in Asia, 250 children are benefiting from the work of Andrea Thumshirn and her ongoing project with children in deprived, rural areas.

Hockey Village India was founded by Andrea in 2010, with the first hockey village, Garh Himmat Singh, opening in Rajasthan. Since then, four more Hockey Villages have opened across India.

Andrea, who was a German national junior player and coach in her home country, outlines what life is like for the children in these areas. “Most of our kids are from poor farmer families. We provide them with everything from shoes, socks, shorts, shirts, sticks, shin pads, track suits. We provide transport, accommodation and food when we go out for matches and tournaments. We even bought three cows to provide milk so the little ones get some proteins. These kids are smaller in size and more skinny than the same age group kids in the cities.”

Through the Hockey Villages, the pupils are given a basic, modern education, including English, mathematics and computing as well as drawing and arts. Then the pupils get sport –hockey - every day. Andrea explains: “Besides education, we believe in sports, as sports is important for a healthy body, for so many important skills in life like team spirit, motivation, going to our limits and achieving something.”

Providing sporting opportunities is vital for the health and social well-being of a nation, and no-where has an opportunity been seized more eagerly than in the Oceania region, where both the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu have used hockey to great effect in the process of building communities.

Vanuatu suffered devastating damage after cyclone Pam wreaked havoc on the Oceania island in March 2015. With 16 people losing their lives and many thousands affected by one of the worse storms to hit the area this century, the people of Vanuatu have been rebuilding their lives in the months since the cyclone struck.

Following the disaster, the hockey family pulled together to support the small Pacific island which is home to just over 260,000 people.

The Vanuatu Hockey Federation received assistance from the Oceania Hockey Federation and the Vanuatu National Olympic Committee which enabled them to send their teams to the competition, while from further afield, the European Hockey Federation provided funding to source a team coach.

The support paid off as the Vanuatu hockey teams picked up a silver medal in the men’s event, losing to Fiji in the final; while the women won bronze after they defeated Tonga.

When asked what the experience had been like for the players, captain of the women's team, Belinda Nampas, said: "As a team we tried our very best. We had to overcome many personal, physical and financial challenges to be able to participate in these Games but the sacrifices were worth it. We not only got to play the sport we love but we got to experience the wonderful culture of Papua New Guinea and form new friendships with other athletes from other countries and sports disciplines.”

Just 14 months ago,the Solomon Islands had no hockey structure to speak off. But in just a few short months, there has been a complete turn around and, in 2015, the Solomon Islands were crowned the“Oceania TAP Star”, after they embraced the ideals and aims of the FIH and Oceania Hockey Federation TAP project.

Solomon Islands has a history of hockey but in recent years,a lack of leadership, government instability and natural disasters meant hockey had disappeared.

To reintroduce the sport, Oceania Hockey Federation and the newly formed Solomon Island Hockey Federation (SIHF) got together to promote and the idea of a smaller game –Hockey5s.

This was the catalyst needed to kickstart hockey in the region, and by the time the 2015 Pacific Games was held in July in Papua New Guinea, thehad a men’s team that was not only ready for entry, but returned with a bronze medal.

In addition, SIHF recently held its first Secondary Schools Championships with six boys and sixgirls teams competing and four clubs have started up. In a country where sporting opportunities, particularly for girls and women, are sparse, this has really addressed a serious need.

Turkey is a country with more than its fair share of issues, but in the sphere of hockey it is making great progress. A seminar on indoor hockey was held last year and was attended by more than 250 coaches, umpires, club managers and players. a similar seminar is planned for the outdoor game in the coming months.

The indoor hockey seminar received Olympic Solidarity funding and was organised and run by the Turkish Hockey Federation. As in West Africa and Oceania, this development work in Turkey is part of the FIH Targeted Assistance Programme (TAP). FIH is working with the Turkish Hockey Federation, the European Hockey Federation (EHF) and Netherlands National Association - KNHB–on developing a long-term strategy to build a good participation base for hockey, both indoors and outdoors in the southern European country.

Speaking of this seminar, the Turkish Hockey Federation President, KıvançHudogan, said: “I would like to thank FIH and the EHF for their continued support for us, as exemplified by their support for this seminar. From all that we have seen and feedback received, the Education and Development seminar had a great attendance and was really beneficial. Without doubt it has accelerated the progress of hockey development in Turkey. Thanks to this progress we believe that we will succeed in Round One of the Hockey World League for men and also do well at the U18 European Championships for girls and boys.”

The men are currently ranked 51st in the FIH World Rankings, while the women are ranked at 36.

Both the men’s and women’s teams competed in the 2014 Hockey World League Round One competitions, the women finished fourth in their event in the Czech Republic, while the men finished fifth in Croatia.

These are just a few examples from around the world that demonstrate just how powerful sport can be in bringing communities together, despite the difficulties every day life may be throwing at them. As Nelson Mandela said: “Sport has the power to change the world. It has the power to inspire. It has the power to unite people in a way that little else does. It speaks to youth in a language they understand. Sport can create hope where once there was only despair.”

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