No-one would disagree that this has been an unusual year. As the pandemic swept the globe, its impact was felt in every sphere of life. Uncertainty, a sense of challenge and a certain amount of fear were the prevailing emotions for much of 2020.
All of which means that our reflections on the year are also not the normal memories and moments. In an usual year, it would be all about the hockey, but this year, there were other stories that made the headlines as well.
Of course, before lockdown restrictions were imposed, there were international matches and they were of the highest quality. Who can forget those breathtaking skills on display as India men made their FIH Hockey Pro League debut and got off to a cracking start with a 5-2 win over the Netherlands? This was followed by an equally absorbing 3-3 draw with India going on to take the bonus point as they won the shoot-out. India’s captain Manpreet Singh experienced his own moment to triumph when he was voted FIH Player of the Year (men).
Netherlands men were also involved in a battle royale with near neighbours Belgium as the FIH Hockey Pro League re-started in September. The 4-4 draw between the two teams was the last match before a second lockdown put a halt to all international fixtures, but what a match to end on – fans will be waiting in real anticipation for the league to burst back into action in February based on the excitement levels created during that brief window of FIH Hockey Pro League action.
Another FIH Hockey Pro League fixture which really demonstrated the FIH’s commitment to an equality agenda was the appointment of mixed gender umpiring teams for the New Zealand v Belgium men’s and women’s matches in February. Wanri Venter, Adam Kearns, Aleisha Neumann and Steve Rogers were the umpires who took to the field and the message was loud and clear – FIH is an international sports federation that is fully committed to gender equality and is leading by example.
In one of the New Zealand v Belgium games already mentioned, Olivia Merry had her own moments of glory as she enjoyed the first of two four-goal hauls in the FIH Hockey Pro League. Merry was crowned top scorer in the inaugural season and looks to be following that up with a second successful season. She has 10 goals to her name so far, including four scored against Argentina.
Away from the field of play, the world’s hockey community has been playing its part in the fight against Covid-19. While we published a story outlining the amazing work of some of our athletes and their role in battling the virus, we know that people from across the entire hockey family have been doing their bit – volunteering, offering expertise and often putting the welfare of others before their own safety.
While some athletes were working on the frontline, others were doing their part to help with the physical and mental health issues associated with social isolation. Again, there are countless examples of athletes using their own standing to motivate and inspire other people to get active. One of the most creative of these was the stream of social media posts from Sam Ward. His Isolation Olympics showed videos of the hockey star using household items to re-create the Olympic Sports - both summer and winter. Comedy and creativity were used to full effect by the England and Great Britain star.
One thing that has really taken off in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdowns has been the use of technology. Whether it is WhatsApp keeping umpires connected; Zoom meetings for teams to discuss training or simply to enjoy a catch-up; or social media posts to keep a wider audience entertained – the digital world has come into its own. For the FIH Academy, the use of technology to deliver online courses has been invaluable While these will never replace the need for people to attend courses, the ability for elements of training and learning to be delivered online has already revolutionised the way the hockey workforce will develop in the future.
The use of platforms such as Zoom and Teams has allowed the FIH to engage with its worldwide community on an unprecedented scale. The recent Gender Equality webinar was a prime example. More than 70 participants from across the globe joined in a wide-ranging discussion that shone a spotlight on gender equality and how each continent and nation can push forwards on their own agenda, while working to a common goal of equality.
FIH has also upped the ante when it comes to bridging the gap between athletes and hockey fans. The Insta Live chat between Argentina’s Delfina Merino and the Netherlands’ Eva de Goede was a piece of magical broadcasting. Seeing two fierce competitors engaged in a lively and warm chat about all things hockey has set a precedent for future similar interviews.
This in turn leads neatly onto the launch of Watch.Hockey and Hockey Pod. The Watch.Hockey app is a hockey fan’s dream. All the news, views, match replays, stats – it is everything a sports fan could want, all in one place.
Hockey Pod is the FIH monthly podcast, and two episodes in is already proving a hit. The guests are relaxed and open as they chat at length to the hosts and each other. It is a very different way of engaging in the sport.
The final mention in our hockey moments of 2020 goes to the courageous hockey athletes of the Afghanistan national women’s team. Defying a regime which denied them the right to play sport, the women persevered, often under the threat of severe punishment. That they now have a national team and are allowed to train and compete is one of the brightest moments in a year that has often appeared to be a very dark time.