Get back to the drawing board to rejig hockey

Kenya's Naomi Kemunto in action during the Paris Olympic qualifiers. [Africa Hockey Union]

Kenya’s men and women national hockey teams have been bundled out of next year’s Olympics Games in Paris, France. The women team fell yesterday to Nigeria after losing 1-0, while the men were thrashed 3-1 by Ghana to exit the qualifiers held in Pretoria, South Africa on Thursday.

There were high hopes of the two teams making the cut for the global stage after showing huge promise during friendlies and practice games. There was a time Kenya was a big house in hockey and teams dreaded facing the national teams here or abroad.

While it was initially a sport associated with the Goans and Sikhs, hockey started expanding in the 1950s, leading to Kenya taking part in the 1956 Olympics in Melbourne, Australia, where it took the 10th position.

It was only until 1992 when the country’s dominance in Africa started to fizzle out with Egypt overtaking Kenya to represent the continent at the summer games.

We can return to that golden age with hard work and proper investment in the discipline.

The Ministry of Sports and the Kenya Hockey Union must not give up after the latest setback. Indeed, this is the time to recoup and hit the drawing board. How about strengthening schools’ hockey teams and scouting for talent that can make it to the national teams in a few years?

This is also time to invest more in the hockey league with enough money through sponsorship and exposure to foreign teams. Playing world renowned hockey teams in friendlies will help the national teams gain valuable experience and skills to handle continental and global competitions.

The government and hockey stakeholders should also create a conducive environment for men and women players. The league teams should be supported financially to pay the players a decent income so as that they can concentrate on improving their skills.

It is unfortunate that majority of professional hockey players must engage in other ventures to supplement their earnings from the game. Elsewhere, professional hockey players live off the game and do not have to worry about where their next meal comes from.

With the right investment and prudent use of resources, it is possible to run a fully professional hockey league, where teams compete in full stadiums and fans pay to watch entertaining matches. There is a huge hockey fan base, which the teams can tap into to mobilise resources.

A few years ago, hockey was popular all the way from primary, secondary schools to college level. It is possible to recreate that glory and make the game popular among young and old Kenyans today. Well-to-do companies will only put in their money after seeing impressive results on and off the pitch.

Hockey has a huge potential to change the lives of many Kenyans and is worth investing in.

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