(Photo: © FIH)

Over the past decade there has been willingness for the more established hockey countries, such as Australia and New Zealand to give time, expertise and equipment to assist the developing hockey nations in the Pacific. However, in the past this has not been done in any organized regular manner.

By Gil Gemming

So in 2009, the scope of this has taken on a totally different look and the “Oceania Hockey Exchange Program” has been developed to provide a more coordinated response analyzing more carefully the needs of these nations in areas including technical expertise and equipment, both new and used. 

In the past Australia and New Zealand have both given tremendous support to me, as Continental Development Officer, providing or offering coaching resources, equipment and personnel.  However, it really needed a more orchestrated approach so that the individual developing member countries not only received “exchange materials” but had a real sense of belonging to a “mentor” group. This group could be at the national level or at a more intimate closer level, Association to Association, or at a club level to club level. The other concept has been “To Give Back”, encouraging those already in the sport to give back to others starting out.

The first concrete example of the new initiatives for 2009 was the establishment of stronger relationship between Oceania Hockey Federation with Hockey Queensland. Hockey Queensland is geographically close to Papua New Guinea, Vanuatu and Solomon Islands and already has an excellent indigenous program in place. An MOU was established that has targeted Papua New Guinea, in the first year.  The PNG team traveling to Arafura Games (May) was able to stop in Brisbane and receive extra coaching and begin building the new relationship. In November at the Papua New Guinea Games a Queensland Coach will help run the workshop preceding the tournament and stay during the tournament to work beside all the Coaches. When the PNG teams head to the Oceania Pacific Games, in Suva in December, a Queensland umpire will accompany the team. This female umpire will be important to ensure that the level of Pacific Cup officiating is higher but also be available to the team to answer any questions that they might have.  In 2010, Hockey Queensland has created an opportunity for the PNG National Teams to take part in Hockey Queensland’s own state national tournament. The opportunities are now opening up in all directions and communication is now direct between the two without necessarily through a third party like OHF.      

Fiji has had a close relationship with New Zealand and over the past years NZ Coaches and Umpires have run workshops. Craig Gribble, NZ Hockey Federation Umpire Manager, has worked in Fiji over the past 4 years, running workshops, giving advice on accreditation frameworks and providing resources. The relationship is at a positive point where both the Fiji Hockey Federation and the individual umpires can seek support on umpiring decisions and have someone to bounce ideas off.

As a result of Samoa’s involvement in Oceania Cup in August 2009 a strong relationship developed between Samoa and New Zealand’s’ Southland Hockey Association. Southland was very supportive in supplying their High Performance Coach, Mark Stafford, along with local coaches -Jane Gordon, Roger Leigh and Liz McLean. These individuals came out to every practice and gave their time freely. When it realized that Solomona Filituna, the Samoan Goalkeeper, did not have sufficient safety gear to keep in, at an international level, Roger lent him his near new gear for the duration of the competition, as well as giving him daily tuition. Liz, with daughter Paige realizing that the Samoans only arrived with 6 balls between the 2 teams collected balls from home and other players and presented them to the Women’s team.  Directly after the Oceania Cup, Hockey NZ ran a Level 2 Coaching Workshop and places were made available to allow the National Coaches to stay on and immediately build on the knowledge that they had gained through Oceania Cup and the enthusiasm that they were feeling. The main speakers on the first day of that workshop – Hockey New Zealand national coaching staff -Mark Hager, Shane McLeod and Darren Smith had all been in Invercargill so  the contact had be made and the Samoan Coaches felt very at ease in this environment . As a result of Samoa’s involvement in both Oceania Cup and the workshop the devastation caused by the Samoan tsunami one month later was felt throughout the New Zealand hockey fraternity and the response to help in other areas, apart from hockey demonstrates that relationships developed in sport will have wider importance in the lives of those involved.  

Equipment or the lack of it and the inability to go to a sport shop and purchase hockey equipment is a reality for many of the island nations. While in Samoa in April and then again in June it was brought home to me as I witnessed sticks being gathered after the match and were passed on to the next teams coming on.  Only half of the 34 players, selected in the national teams to attend Oceania Cup owned their own stick! I left Samoa and headed to Champions Trophy in Sydney. Discussing this situation with Hockey New Zealand Chairman, Graham Child, as we traveled into Sydney Graham suggested the idea of asking “Champions to Give Back.” The concept was to ask individual players or teams participating to donate an item of clothing or equipment to a pool that could be distributed to appropriate countries. The response was magnificent. Sticks, gloves, shoes and shin guards were donated and Samoa players were thrilled to receive them.

Not only did the players contribute but Hockey Australia and FIH donated all the unused clothing that remained after the tournament. This was clothing organized for officials and also for volunteers. 6 boxes arrived at my door! New Zealand had had a change of sponsor so they had donated boxes of socks and shorts to help the cause. This clothing was enough to fully kit out Samoa Men and Women’s teams with practice gear and additional warm jackets to enable them to cope with the cooler weather in Invercargill!! I thoroughly enjoyed watching the team members opening up the boxes – it was an early Christmas and the smiles on their faces were worth any effort involved!

Hockey Equipment suppliers – Just Hockey, TK and Grays all have been tremendously positive in providing equipment that be distributed by the CDO to the appropriate nations. The Australian Country Men and Women have been the Australian representatives at the Pacific Cup. Last year they volunteered to give back by running coaching clinics in Lautoka and Suva both before and after their successful tournament.  People are only too willing to help once they are asked. Two Auckland players on their honeymoon, in March, delivered junior sticks to Vanuatu!!

These efforts described are just the tip of the iceberg in this year’s initiative which has already demonstrated great potential to make the difference to allow the Oceania Hockey nations to aspire to greater participation in our sport. More than anything, this programme has facilitated the development of even closer relationships between the players and officials of our Pacific Countries, which extend beyond the boundaries of sport.  

Gil Gemming is CDO of Oceania