Jill Boon is a long-serving member of the Belgium national squad and has been a key part in the Red Panthers resurgence in recent years.
While they exited to Spain in the quarter-finals of the Vitality Hockey Women’s World Cup in London earlier this year, the Belgium team had also demonstrated they were certainly capable of competing with the top ranked nations. A draw with Australia and a thrilling 6-3 win over Japan showed all the signs of a team with confidence and plenty of talent.
Belgium’s presence in the FIH Pro League will be great for the team and fans alike. Belgium are famous for their band of travelling supporters, complete with mesmerising drum beat, and the Red Panthers home matches at Royal Uccle Sport in Brussels will be packed and very noisy.
We caught up with Boon, who is also a co-founder of the charity MW Fund, which provides sporting opportunities for children born into poverty. The striker was clearly very excited about the prospect of some high octane hockey action.
FIH: What benefits do you see the FIH Pro League bringing to hockey in Belgium, both internationally and on a domestic level?
JB: To be able to play lots of games at a high level is for us really important as it helps us to keep improving. The popularity of hockey will increase in Belgium for sure. I believe we have one of the best crowds in the world, and it will be a lot of fun to play high level games in front of the Belgian fans.
FIH: What impact will the Pro League have upon the Belgium women's team?
JB: We believe that we are close to breaking into the top 10 in the FIH Hero World Rankings, and to be able to perform against top ranked team will for sure help us in our development and as we set about achieving future goals.
FIH: Will preparation for the Pro League change the way the Belgium team prepares and trains?
JB: The size of the country and the investment of the Belgian Hockey Federation allows us to train four times a week together already. With the Pro League coming up this will be slightly adjusted to allow us to perform at 100 per cent for our country, but not sacrificing our input into the domestic league. Part of our preparation will be learning how to deal with the challenges of long distance travel. Load management will be really important.
FIH: Do you see the Pro League boosting hockey awareness in Belgium?
JB: Hockey is booming in Belgium, thanks to the result of the Red Lions. And the Red Panthers’ numbers are increasing year after year. Belgium supporters are always keen to support Belgian athletes in any sport. The Pro League will for sure help to increase the popularity and we hope also that it will awaken some new passion in the little hockey players of the future.
FIH: What are your personal feelings about the Pro League?
JB: I think it’s a really exciting tournament. To be able to travel around the globe to play games against top team is really cool. The Federation did a great job to manage the domestic league too. It’s going to be a real hockey party and I’m sure that the teams that are coming to play in Belgium will love the atmosphere here.
Belgium women’s first FIH Pro League match takes place on January 26 2019 at the Estadio Municipal de Hockey in Cordoba.
For more information about the FIH Pro League, click.