The Road to Rio: the final lap

**Estimated reading time: 3 minutes**

rio2016logoIn Europe the field hockey competition has restarted almost everywhere after the traditional winterbreak. To use a sports metaphore from another sport: “The Rio bound teams and players just entered the final lap before the finish”.

However this final lap, as indeed the entire race, is not run on a level playing field for all concerned. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not trying to complain about this. Life and therefore sports is different for different people, different teams, different countries… And every road travelled will have its benefits and disadvantages for the players/teams concerned. There are even some players who were pulled out of the race by their own administrators for the sole reason of being born in a continent with less “hockey” nations. I truly feel for the South African players who were robbed of their Olympic dream…

In Europe we have this strong foundation of our sport in a national (and European) club competition. It is in every sense of the word our most stable foundation in the development of the game of hockey. It has brought us a lot and the game of hockey would not be able to survive here without it. However it also means “the final lap” before Rio for European hockey players will be kind of a steeplechase race, with hurdles, sandboxes and water hazards. Where players from other nations will be running a flat 400m race towards the finish line (aka the Finals in Rio this summer).  Even though they might be running a flat 400m race, some will have to run this race on a sandy road, not prepared for sports while others run the same “final lap” on a fully equipped athletic track. You will get I’m just painting a picture and not describing the actual preparations of course…

For me the Aussies will be the biggest favourite in Rio because of their choice to run their last lap as a flat 400m race with probably the best conditions surrounding them. It is a distinct advantage originating from the way they choose to organise their sport. Their players are not allowed to take part in the European club competition in Olympic or Worldcup years, because these competition run for a long time and would interfere with their “final lap”. To compensate the Aussies do schedule time in for the HIL. So their players do have the possibility to make some money in India for this short tournament-like competition and afterwards are able to focus for 100% on their national team and the Rio target.

The other big competitors for the gold medal in Rio are, no surprise here, the Dutch and the Germans. As well as the known outsiders for a medal, such as Belgium and Great Biritain, these nations benefit a lot from their club based competitions, but… will have to run a steeplechase race in the “final lap” towards Rio. Their players are heavily involved in their club competitions national and of course the Euro Hockey League (EHL) in these next few months meaning the national team players will only turn their focus for 100% towards the last stretch with the national team as of the month of June more or less, just weeks before Rio. With the players attention divided between club and national team they have a distinct disadvantage in this “final lap” according to me.

Nonetheless for me, maybe because of not being one of the players concerned, but merely a fan of the sport, I would still prefer the European model. Where I can enjoy the game of hockey at a high level for more less 25 or more Sundays every year and where my kids grew up and enjoy life in a real extended hockey family because of our clubs. Even if it means freezing you *** off on a very cold February Sunday watching a game of my son among several international hockey players adjusting to club level hockey again after the traditional winterbreak.
hurdles-trackHey… they won and are on top of the league again with 3 months of exciting hockey ahead o
f some great club hockey in the Dutch hoofdklasse and the European EHL. So it’s looking good… And even if Rio for them is just around the corner, I will enjoy the hurdles of their final lap these next few months…