If ever a person understands how sport in general, and hockey in particular, can help develop people’s minds, then it is Gabriel Tuscher. The Swiss-born hockey player and coach has lived in Belgium for the past 10 years and is heavily involved in Brussels-based Wellington Hockey Club. But Tuscher’s heart lies in the African nation of Burkina Faso, a country he has lived in and visited regularly for the past 20 years.
Tuscher is also an advocate for using hockey as a tool to help youngsters in developing nations to improve their health, education and life chances, so when he heard that the Burkina Faso Olympic committee was setting up a National Association for hockey, he was the first to step forward and offer to help.
In 2016, Tuscher travelled to Burkina Faso to run a Level One coaching course for 35 adults. These coaches then took over coaching duties at 15 newly-formed hockey clubs dotted around the country.
Then in July 2017, Tuscher embarked on a month-long trip around the hockey clubs of Burkina Faso with a group of eight young Belgium hockey players. The aim of the trip was for hockey players from the two countries to meet and share ideas. Local children and adults would benefit from coaching sessions run by the visiting group, while a trip around the country, visiting the clubs, would open the Belgium group’s eyes to a totally different culture and way of life.
As well as coaching, the clubs also played matches against the visiting coaching group, giving the local players a taste of European hockey.
Aside from hockey, the group from Wellington HC visited an orphanage, where they handed over boxes of clothing and taught some of the children the basics of hockey.
The training and matches took place on a variety of surfaces, including scrubland, sandy pitches and indoor surfaces. The country's only asphalt pitch was ear-marked as a future championship ground because as one young player said “the ball didn’t bounce all the time.”
As one of the poorest countries in Africa, suffering drought plus violence in its northern regions, it is hardly surprising that the clubs have very little playing kit or equipment. Before they left for Burkina Faso, the group ran fundraising events, sold t-shirts, held African-themed evenings and sponsored events and collected as much donated equipment as they could. Tuscher also set up a crowdfunding site, so people could support the project. As Tuscher explained however, the funds were mainly used to buy more hockey equipment, not to fund the group’s travel. As an example of the generosity of donors, 35 sets of goalkeeping kit found their way onto the containers bound for Burkina Faso.
While hockey in Burkina Faso is just two years old, the National Association has big ideas. The first ambition was to participate in the Hockey World League next year, but as Tuscher pointed out, the team would get soundly beaten in every match. A more realistic aim is for the national team to play in the proposed Hockey5s, which the African Hockey Federation is planning to initiate within the year, with financial support from the West African TAP project.
The Targeted Assistance Programme (TAP) is vital to the development in hockey in Burkina Faso and the surrounding west African countries. Tuscher is course educator on the TAP programme and many of the coaches from Burkina Faso recently attended a TAP Train the Trainer course in Ghana.
Considering the huge problems this country faces, both economically and politically, the growth of hockey has been extraordinary. A visit to the Facebook page of the Federation Burkinabe de Hockey sur Gazon has pictures of men, women and children playing, training and enjoying their sport, while another picture shows a team kitted out in shirts donated by the Belgium Hockey Federation.
Financing sport in the developing country is an obvious problem but Tuscher’s aim, through his project 'Wellington for Burkina Faso', is to get Belgium hockey clubs on board as sponsors to clubs in Burkina Faso. Under his plans, the Belgium clubs would provide advice, support and financial assistance to their adopted club. This could involve collecting equipment and sending it out to the African nation or help with the logistics of running a hockey club. Tuscher’s plans received a big boost when the Begium Red Panthers donated 15 cases of hockey equipment to his cause.
This project is one of many such initiatives across the world which mirror the aims of the FIH's 10-year Hockey Revolution strategy aimed at making hockey a global game that inspires the next generation.