Vanuatu is a South Pacific nation comprising 80 islands spread over 1,300 kilometres. It has a population of approximately 270,400 and is 1,755 kilometres east of northern Australia. Its distance from the nearest developed hockey nation and the logistics of organising a national team and a coordinated training programme when its players are spread over numerous islands has not stopped this small nation from embarking on a programme to introduce hockey as a national sport.
Vanuatu’s hockey ambitions took a giant step forward earlier this year when the men’s national team won its first hockey gold medal at the Intercontinental Hockey5s event that took place alongside the Oceania Cup in Sydney, Australia. As a result of this success, Vanuatu men’s team jumped 19 places up the International Hockey Federation (FIH) Hero World Rankings from 81st in the world to 62nd.
As the team proudly declares: “In four games of hockey in Sydney we scored 50 goals and only had three against us.”
The island nation faces an incredible number of challenges in making its hockey ambitions reality. There is the cost of transport, whether it be for individual players who have to travel long distances to training or for teams who have to travel to tournaments and fixtures, such as the Hockey5s tournament. Then there is a lack of personnel. There is no group of former players who can support the young players coming through and no volunteer structure to support the sport.
“In four games of hockey in Sydney we scored 50 goals and only had three against us.”
Vanuatu men's national team
A huge gap in coach and umpire skills impedes progress and there is a lack of female role models to encourage women and girls to take up the sport. And the availability or access to suitable playing surfaces is scant. But where there is a will, there is a way.
Currently a weekly schools outreach programme serves 15 schools around the Vanuatu island of Efate and three programmes – International Olympic Day, Van2017 Cleanup and Women in Sport – are all running and raising awareness of the social and health impact of hockey. There is also a hockey disabilities programme, 'Hockey Without Limits' and a 'Mama’s in Hockey' programme – focused on providing women with the opportunity to play hockey, as many of the village women have had neither opportunity or access to playing sport. This small nation is as much in favour of promoting and playing an inclusive and equal sport as any other nation.
The participation figures are promising. Currently 5,187 people are regularly involved in hockey activities. This number is split into: men 228; women 280; boys 2,955 and girls 1,851. There are also opportunities to hone competitive skills – an under-13 tournament was held earlier in the year and a three month hockey league for senior and under-16s ran successfully, with seven men’s teams and five women’s teams.
And while this is happening now, there are also bright and bold plans for the future. Two umpiring and coaching courses are being planned; senior female leaders in sport are being trained; equipment grants are being finalised with Vasanoc; the number of outreach courses are being increased; the hockey leagues are being expanded; and the national hockey leaders are targeting the Youth Olympic qualifiers as a potential entry point to the global hockey stage.
All of this is being made possible through partnership working. The Oceania Hockey Federation, the FIH Targeted Assistance Programme (TAP) and the Australian Government's Pacific Sports Partnership have been able to help with funding Development Officers, equipment packs, training materials, workshops and financial support for regional competition. But the true driver comes from within and a small but passionate group of hockey players and supporters are determined to keep Vanuatu hockey on an upward trajectory.
Vanuatu's plans for hockey at both grass roots and elite level is very much in line with the aims of of the FIH's 10-year Hockey Revolution strategy, including raising the level of professionalism of the game and making hockey a global game that inspires the next generation.
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