Hockey referee Obalo trains to keep up with the best in Africa


Kenyan FIH International Hockey Umpire, Peter Obalo in action. [Courtesy]

When you mention referees Howard Webb, Anthony Taylor or Mike Dean to any football fan, many will recognise them and it may even elicit some tempered debate on their past decisions taken when officiating in the English Premier League or UEFA Champions League.

However, when the name Peter Obalo is mentioned to local hockey fans, they recognise him with class, respect and high standards which, defines him every time he takes to the pitch to officiate a local league match or an international hockey tournament.

His professionalism, fitness, versatility and physical output is similar to that of a current active hockey player, a threshold Obalo says he derives from his passion and love for the sport.

“Hockey is my life. Since the late 90s, I have been part of the game and there is nothing that makes me happier than hockey,” said Obalo, in a telephone interview with the Standard Sports from India.

Obalo is an international umpire currently doing duties in the ongoing 16-nation 2021 International Hockey Federation (FIH) Men’s Junior World Cup in India.

Obalo also served in the same capacity during the Youth Olympics U-18 competition in Argentina, where he officiated Argentina and Zambia matches, among others.  

The 36-year-old said such opportunities are rare and every time he gets a chance, he gladly embraces it.

Obalo was also part of the umpires who officiated during the 2019 Olympic qualifiers in South Africa in 2019.

“We have good umpires here but we lack the platform to prove our worth. I’m happy that once again, I have been given the chance to go and officiate at such an event and really, all this is about hard work and determination,” said Obalo.

“It’s awesome to be selected from a panel of top umpires. It is an honour to be here among the best. To represent Kenya and Africa is very special,” said Obalo, who is the only African umpire at the Junior World Cup.

Obalo’s hockey journey started in 2001 when he begun playing hockey in Mombasa.

“I started my club hockey in 2001 playing for Mombasa Institute. I was a one-club man for the institution now known as Technical University of Mombasa. I was with them for 12 years,” he said.

In 2013, Obalo’s dream of continuing to play hockey was over after his club pulled out of the Kenya Hockey Union leagues citing financial constraints.

Facing an unfamiliar future, Obalo chose to try umpiring. His desire to continue being part of the game even off the pitch was fuelled more after witnessing poor officiating during the national secondary school games.

“While watching secondary school games, I was pissed off with an umpire who was very biased against one team. I felt for the boys who were getting the short end of the stick,” he remembered.

“After the match, I told the umpire that he was killing the spirit of the boys with his poor decisions. The umpire challenged me to attend the next upcoming umpire training so that I can become an umpire. I took up the challenge and here I am,” he said.

Obalo got his first umpiring cap in 2015 in Johannesburg, South Africa, during the Africa Cup of nations, where he also received his FIH international badge.

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