THE national hockey teams returned from the Hockey World League Round 2 in New Delhi early this month with definitely a lot of new lessons learnt when playing with high ranked teams like Ireland, India, China and Japan.
Fiji the lowest ranked team for both men and women provided stiff competition for their opponents. Though they didn't bag any win from this weeklong tournament, their presence on that turf was surely felt. Two of our players were recognised for their outstanding performance. International Hockey Federation (Federation Internationale de Hockey sur Gazon -FIH) president Leandro Negre shared his thoughts of what he thought Fiji needed in order to be on par with the rest of the world with Journalist MERESEINI MARAU during the tournament in New Delhi.
Marau: We've seen the tournament and see how small countries like Fiji, which is the lowest ranked in this league, played. How is FIH going to help countries like Fiji?
Negre : First I would like to tell you that I've been twice to Fiji. I was the first President of International Sports Olympics Federation visiting your country and I think that also is a good example. Personally I'm very glad to promote hockey in countries like Fiji and all in the bottom of the rankings. I think our best project to develop hockey to countries like Fiji is this world league. The league is a totally new concept for hockey. First of all it is open from beginning to all national association affiliated to International Hockey Federation
Because it's a tournament we are playing with rounds. Normally our hockey is played for ten days or one week and in one spot.
Here, it's played in different parts of the world we have different rounds, round one, round two, round three and round four is the final. With the big sixes - from the beginning 80 national associations for men are likely to attend the tournament and about 70 in women. That shows the demand and the interest in this competition. We are very pleased about this league.
Thanks to the World league, now Fiji for the first time is participating in the top international event. Now you've flown to India, India is a key country in hockey.
Hockey is their national sport and it was a very good opportunity for your team to come and play here. I'm sure if we continue with this league, Fiji will learn a lot and continue to improve.
Marau: We can see from this competition the disparity in the standard of hockey. Do you have anything planned like coach exchange or to get expertise to go and help Fiji?
Negre: That's important. I totally agree with you. From our headquarters in Switzerland, t's not possible to develop hockey all around the world. We need everyone to be involved.
It's like a pyramid, it's a continental federation. I think Oceania Hockey Federation is in good hands, they are doing lot of things. Two times I've been to Suva, I met with the members of the Oceania.
I know personally what they are doing. For the first time a very important member from Australia is helping them in the development, not for Fiji but for Samoa. I think Fiji is in a better level.
Marau: You've seen how the Fiji team struggled to be part of this league. They paid their own fares to come to India. Would you consider subsidising their fares or expenses in the future?
Negre: That's one of the goals. The decision of FIH executive board to work with Indian project, because its a key country and here we can get sponsors. We can look for sponsorship here in India. Our goal which has been approved is to help the continental federation but also to grant directly to national associations to participate in this.
Marau: You've been to Suva twice. You've seen the facilities. You know the capabilities they have in Fiji when it comes to hosting international events. In your capacity as the president of the FIH, would you be able to help convince other overseas teams to come to Fiji?
Negre: To promote a sport in one country, you have to do two things and you have to do it together. First you have to participate, like how Fiji is participating here in India. The second is you have to organise events in Suva where you have a beautiful hockey venue. I think Fiji has experience with the Ocenia Cup so you have people to organise big tournaments. For FIH, we are happy to allocate more rounds and competitions to Fiji. Since this league has four rounds for two years. For the next cycle of two years, we will start again and allocate tournaments in Fiji.
Marau: Do you think Fiji is ready to have more rounds of competition?
Negre: This is the first time we have this world league. After this experience, I think Fiji is now ready to have more league games from Oceania. At least that's my personal wish for more tournaments to be allocated to Fiji with teams not only from the Oceania but from other countries. Perhaps Singapore, Malaysia, Bangladesh. I hope teams like India can go there, but it will depend on the ranking. India is high ranked so they play in the third and fourth rounds of the league.
Marau: You've seen our players play. Though they didn't win any games, they gave their opponents tough competition. Two of our players were recognised for their outstanding performance on the turf. Susana Mudunatagi was named best goal keeper of the tournament for the women and Adrian Smith was named player of the match in their game against China. What do you think of the Fiji team here?
Negre: I think the team has improved. The experience for them is fantastic. They now know exactly the level of hockey in another country is different. From this tournament, they see that they can't only play in Fiji. It's not enough. I think that's the best lesson they learnt from here.
Marau: It's safe to say that we have sporting imperialism in Fiji. The major sports get all the help and mileage while minor sports like hockey struggle to survive. What do you suggest?
Negre: I had the opportunity to meet with the President of Fiji in December 2011, and we were talking about that. I'm sure that he's aware of the need to support. But we also need to do things.
You have to attract the authorities to invest like rugby sevens, we have to start first by allocating tournaments in Fiji for development wise.
We have to attract spectators to come and watch hockey and the local authorities can do that. We have a lot to do.