Zim Preps For Youth Olympics Qualifiers

The Zimbabwe U17 hockey boys and girls teams are preparing for the Youth Olympic qualifiers to be held in Lusaka, Zambia from March 10-15.

SSN caught up with the teams, coaches and Ginny Ross who will accompany the boys’ team as the team manager. Both teams were making full use of the exeat weekend and practising on the artificial turf at Arundel School, in preparation for the tour. The players were bonding and playing as many matches as possible before they leave for Zambia.

The U17 girls’ team is mainly made up of players from Harare, so managing and organising training sessions has been easier. The boys’ team on the other hand have found managing training sessions less easy to co-ordinate as the team is made of players from the varying provinces.

Training on the artificial turf has been expensive as the parents of the players have been meeting the cost of hiring the turf. Players are also paying their own way to Zambia. If the team(s) qualifies, then the Zimbabwe Olympic Committee will be responsible for getting the team to China in August.

The boys’ qualifying round will comprise of six countries, while the girls’ round will comprise of five countries. The top two teams from both groups will qualify for the Youth Olympic Games to be held in China in August. However, there is a catch if both teams qualify . . . The International Olympic Committee has ruled that only one team per country can qualify. This means that if both Zim U17 teams qualify, then the Hockey Association of Zimbabwe (HAZ) has the arduous task of deciding whether it will be the boys or the girls who should attend. The decision that HAZ comes up with will have to be made objectively, factoring in every situation possible.

This is the first time that the teams will be participating in a 5-aside competition. The pitch is smaller than the conventional pitch. The normal field hockey game is played in two 35-minute halves, with 10-minute intervals. The 5-aside concept has three 15-minute chukkas with two minute intervals in between. A team is allowed a maximum number of 10 players but the players don’t have a lot of time to recuperate and so substitution is crucial. Anton Fife the girls’ assistant coach said that the 5-aside game “is quite physical”. Due to the physicality of the game, coaches can substitute as many times as they like. Prince Mwale, the boys’ assistant coach feels that the U17 boys are prepared and stand a very great chance of qualifying in Zambia.

Besides the two teams, their coaches and managers, Zimbabwe is quite privileged to be sending representatives to officiate at the highest level in Zambia. Sarah Bennett will travel to Zambia as Technical Officer – highest post for a country in the qualifiers. Tapiwa Mafi will be an Umpire for the men’s games. Stacey Logan will be an Umpire for the women’s games. Tafara Mukaro will be a Judge to both the men and women’s games. Ross said Mukaro has done well to be appointed by Africa Hockey to judge at the qualifiers.

HAZ acknowledges and thanks companies that have come on board to assist the teams in their preparation for the Youth Olympics qualifiers. These are Agristructures, Reinke, Absolute Sports, Intercrop and Alro Shipping.