The Hawkes Bay Festival of Hockey is a magnificent few days of hockey competition that includes a spectacular eight nation tournament between some of the top teams in the world; a showcase schools event, featuring many of the best up and coming players in New Zealand; and a highly competitive tournament among the sides that compete in the Affiliates Cup.
Kelly Hudson, an FIH top level umpire, was one of the officials at the event. She said: "It was awesome to be involved with a tournament that provides opportunities for some of our best club players to have their day in the sun, or rain as it were, courtesy of Cyclone Debbie.
"Sometimes there is too much emphasis placed on the pathway to the elite - and the creation of the Affiliates Tournament allows the wider hockey population an opportunity - or a pathway - to be able to perform against their peers in a celebrated tournament alongside top level hockey."
One of the teams competing in the Affiliates Cup is the NZ Maori team, which brings together Maori hockey players from across New Zealand. The teams for both Hawkes Bay and other representative competitions are elected at the Annual National Maori tournament, which is held earlier in the year.
The Hawkes Bay Festival is an opportunity for Maori hockey players to showcase their culture at a major event and is seized on by the players as a chance to represent the Maori way of life and, for many, a way of discovering or re-discovering their roots and heritage.
Tenga Taraheti is Co-Coach and player with the NZ Maori men’s team and he says: "Believe it or not, a lot of our players do not live and breath Maori culture as some do, in fact some players are well into their late teens before they even discover they are Maori, so this is the beginning of their journey in finding out who they are and where they came from.
"Now, when we come together for tournaments such as The Affiliates, both the senior men and women stay on a Marae, which is a traditional Maori meeting house used in a social or ceremonial forum. Here, players are immersed in 'manaakitanga' or the act of hospitality and kindness.
"Players are also encouraged to research and recite their "pepeha" or tribal saying. We hold Maori prayers before we dine together and before going to bed. These are very small things but they have a big impact on individuals and the group as a whole."
As Coach to the team, Taraheti is very aware that the style of play favoured by the Maori team is different to the more structured style of play favoured by the non-indigenous teams. "Hockey is certainly unique among Maori teams, players are given the freedom to show their natural talent, the talent that coaches can sometimes restrain when they micro-manage a team. You certainly see the individual’s true ability when they play for the Maori teams."
It is not just the style of play that sets the Maori’s apart, Taraheti points to a heightened sense of ‘brotherhood’ among the players. "The NZ Maori uniform represents the players’ heritage and Maori backgrounds, so there is a passion or brotherhood that is really noticeable."
One of the best known Maori players was Black Sticks superstar Tina Bell-Kake. She had a long and distinguished international career, captaining her country and competing in the 1992 Barcelona Olympics and the 2000 Sydney Olympics.
For Taraheti, the Olympian is a true role model, who never forgot her heritage. "The best thing about Tina Bell-Kake was that she played at the national Maori tournament every year until she moved to Hong Kong. She was an inspiration to myself and a lot of Maori players."
And Hudson added: "There are some great friendships and relationships across these levels that stand the test of time, I enjoyed seeing former top level players contributing to teams with a mix of younger players and some experienced, honest, solid, club level players. Games were played in a wonderful spirit - camaraderie and friendly competitiveness, and overall it was the love of the game that shone through."
At this year’s Affiliates Cup, the men’s NZ Maori team took the bronze medal, beating Poverty Bay by a convincing 5-1 scoreline. The women’s team went one better, collecting silver, after a 2-0 defeat at the hands of Poverty Bay.
Projects like this are very much in line with FIH's 10-year Hockey Revolution strategy which aims to make the sport a global game that inspires the next generation. For more information about the strategy, click here.
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