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Women in Hockey: Five hockey stars leading the way

April 26, 2017

When it comes to equality in sport, hockey is leading the way and to celebrate the fact that our sport is ‘Equally Amazing’, we are highlighting the work of just a few women who are leading the way in hockey and inspiring other girls and women to get involved with our sport, be it as players, coaches, umpires, administrators or any of the other of the many opportunities. 

Hazel Kennedy is deeply immersed in Zambian hockey. She serves on the Zambia National Olympic Committee and is a member of the International Hockey Federation (FIH) Executive Board. One of her main tasks is to align the structure and workings of Zambia Hockey with the standards set by FIH. As she says, this is not always an easy or popular task, but it is one that the determined sports leader is setting to with relish. 

Kennedy said: “Hockey administration and financial management in clubs is being re-learnt in Zambia and I am also having to mitigate the process. It will be a challenge for the clubs to see the positive side of my position at the FIH. The club’s needs are very immediate and current, while the FIH is about plans and possibilities. 

“The main contribution I make to hockey in Zambia is that I am consistent and try not to lose my focus with the challenges of sports administration. It is all about working with the community and recognising the numbers and need for hockey within the communities.” 

For Kennedy, the beauty of hockey is that it helps develop self-confidence among girls and women. She said: “It is a sport that continues to help deliver leadership qualities to our girls and allow them to show that they are as capable as the boys in coaching and umpiring as well as playing.   

“I would like to see more women take on the management of clubs and get more involved in the technical aspects of the game and not always get caught up with playing,” adds Kennedy. “The players must realise the value of coaching, umpiring and management roles too.” 

While Hazel Kennedy is balancing her commitments to her own National Association and the demands of FIH, Sarah Massey’s challenge is all FIH-focused. It is the task of the FIH Events and Marketing Director to oversee the delivery and operations at all FIH events. 

Anyone who has listened to Massey speaking at an FIH Congress will appreciate the enormity of the task – persuading all the National Associations to buy into the principles of the Hockey Revolution - hockey's 10-year strategy aimed at making the sport a global game that inspires the next generation. 

But Massey, who has previous experience working at Rugby and Cricket World Cups as well as several Olympic and Commonwealth Games, is a character whose competitiveness in a sporting sphere is matched by her determination to keep pushing hockey to become a big player among the major sports.

Here, Massey explains what she sees as the major component of her role. She said: "My main contribution has been to work with the internal team and our hosts to improve the standard and quality of the major international events including the Hockey World Cups. Through an open, transparent and professional bidding process we have awarded our events to hosts who we then work in partnership with to ensure that the events are delivered to world class standards in a consistent manner.  

"Having successful, entertaining events are key to attracting TV coverage worldwide, promoting the sport, raising the profile of the athletes and ultimately growing the sport and its fans."

It has also been part of Massey's role to prepare a new event portfolio. This has been a two and a half year project which has looked at the restructuring of all FIH events. The new Home and Away league, which starts in 2019, is in Massey's words "a game changer for hockey". 

Looking at hockey's role in promoting equality, Massey points out that: "The presence of women in senior positions at the FIH leads the way, by a long way, amongst other International Federations. We have three female Directors out of seven people in the leadership team. It is something to be proud of and demonstrates that there are no barriers to what can be achieved."

Kelly Hudson is an umpire with two Olympic Games under her belt (London 2012 and Rio 2016) and is recognised as one of the top umpires in the world. This summer she will be a Video Umpire in Belgium for the Hockey World League Semi-Final, before flying to South Africa to umpire in the Hockey World League Semi-Final in Johannesburg.

For the past few years Kelly, like most other umpires of all levels, has performed all her hockey officiating duties for free but, in an innovative move to increase the professionalism of umpiring, she has been appointed Officiating Development Officer for her home Association back in New Zealand. 

She said: “It’s a blank canvas as it is the first role of its kind, but I’m loving it already and going flat out getting ready for the new season.” 

Rani Rampal is India’s hockey captain and the 22-year-old has just returned from Canada where she led her team to victory in the Hockey World League Round 2, meaning the Eves have qualified for the Hockey World League Semi-Finals. 

Rani was India’s top scorer and has been the driving force behind her team’s march up the FIH Hero World Rankings – they are now 12th in the world and seeking a top 10 place. 

For millions of Indian school girls, players such as Rani Rampal, previous captain Ritu Rani and star goalkeeper Savita, are sporting icons and their success and rising public profile will be a key factor in the push to get more girls and women in India playing hockey.

Head Coach to Team USA is Netherlands hockey star Janneke Schopman. The Dutch-woman, who has both Olympic and World Cup winners medals to her name, took over as Head Coach just over a year ago and will be seeking to continue USA's march up the FIH Hero World Rankings towards a major global medal. 

Schopman is wonderfully direct in her approach to the gender balance within coaching. She said: "When I was a player, I sought knowledge from the coach. To me, it doesn't matter if it is a male or female coach, it is just who has the knowledge and who is best in the role." 

With years of experience at the pinnacle of the game as a player, plus a coaching pedigree that goes back to her teens – "I always coached, from 18, I coached as well as played," – Schopman is a role model to anyone seeking to climb the coaching ladder.

The final woman in our fantastic five is Marijke Fleuren, President of the European Hockey Federation and member of the FIH Executive Board. Speaking shortly after a gruelling but rewarding weekend of overseeing the Euro Hockey League KO16, she explains how she sees her role in hockey. 

Fleuren said: "The main contribution I give to hockey is, I think, offering a listening ear to the people around me. Combine this with a lifelong accumulation of professional experience in all kind of hockey matters, I think I am able to understand and convey the views of other people from other cultures.

"People always tell me how well organised Dutch clubs are and how beautiful Dutch venues are. I always answer, that everything is relative and other nations have different positives to offer.'

Talking of hockey's status as a sport that is moving ahead in providing gender equality, Fleuren is characteristically straightforward with her view. She said: "Hockey offers men and women the same opportunities. The women just have to grab them. Don't have any doubts if they can do it, just start!

"The HeforShe (United Nations) campaign is very important for me. Men and women must learn how to work best together, because together we are stronger."

These are just a few examples of some of the amazing women working in hockey. One component of FIH’s 10-year Hockey Revolution strategy is to increase the degree of professionalism across all levels of the sport. This also implies the need to increase the number of female professionals and volunteers working in hockey, be it on the field or in governance structures.

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