(Photo: Frank Reelick)

Four matches in four days in the baking sun is a tough task for any player, but even more so when the average age of the team is 65. Nevertheless, 56 teams from 16 countries are battling it out at The Hague hockey club Kleine Zwitserland in the seventh Grand Masters Hockey World Cup. The players are ranked in competitions for 60+, 65+, 70+ en 75+. “In fact, it is a lot tougher for these veterans than at the ‘real’ World Cup,” says Constant van Kretschmar, who chairs the tournament’s organising committee.

“They have to play almost daily and have little time to recover between matches.”

Van Kretschmar, the World Grand Masters Association (WGMA) and Dutch hockey club NHC De Zestigplussers (sixty-plussers) are hosting 1,200 players, trainers and umpires over nine days at the Klein Zwitserland complex. “The oldest player is 85, so we really can talk about a long hockey career here,” says Van Kretschmar.

International contacts

South African player Brian Down (60+) is getting ready for his team’s match against England. “It is fantastic to play in such a great place,” he says. “Hockey is popular among older people in Johannesburg but our club is not big enough to organise a tournament like this.”

Ed Potter from the English 75+ team says he is more of a runner than a hockey player. “Of course we have come here to win but it is great to make all these international contacts,” he says. “The atmosphere is terrific.”

First events

The Grand Masters tournament is the biggest side event of the Rabobank Hockey World Cup. The WGMA World Cup is held every two years and dates back to Kuala Lumpur in 2002, when the first event for 65+ was held. Gradually the other age groups have been added in. This year the 75+ event for men, also known as the Vintage Grand Masters, is taking place for the first time, as is a 60+ tournament for women.  Three women’s teams, from Australia, England and the Netherlands are taking part in that.

Fit as a fiddle

The preparations for the tournament began over a year ago. “We pay special attention to ensuring there is proper medical care, alongside all the logistics and different facilities,” Van Kretschmar says. “The players are much fitter than the average person but there are more risks, given their age. There is a doctor here every day and a first aid point, defibrillators are available and there are physiotherapists on stand by.”

So far the complaints have been confined to a little muscle ache. “We started our training before the winter and can’t be beaten when it comes to fitness,” says Malcolm Begemann, a defender with the Dutch 60+ A-team.

The finals take place on June 13.