(ATR) Zambia’s hockey federation did not have enough money to pay for two teams to try to qualify for the 2018 Youth Olympic Games.
Zambia challenges for the ball in a tense semifinal match (ATR)
The men’s team was selected to travel to Algiers, Algeria to play in the qualifying tournament for five-a-side hockey. Now, the team is one win away from an Olympic medal in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
Zambia lost to Malaysia 7-4 today at the men’s hockey semi-final. Malaysia looked the better team throughout the match, and was at one point up 6-1. Then Zambia seized all momentum and launched a furious comeback to make it 6-4 with about two minutes remaining.
A comeback attempt fell just short, but team manager Floyd Chomba told Around the Rings
he is “very excited they fought their way to the semifinals” in the team’s first Olympic competition.
Update: Zambia lost 4-0 to Argentina in the bronze medal match finishing the 2018 YOG in fourth place.
For these players, the chance to play the sport of hockey comes only because of the Olympic Youth Development Center in Lusaka, Zambia.
The OYDC was inaugurated in 2010 by then IOC President Jacques Rogge, as part of an initiative between the IOC, government of Zambia, and Zambian Olympic Committee.
Floyd Chomba manages the five-a-side hockey team (ATR)
Sixteen national federations in Zambia use the OYDC for training, including hockey. Chomba said that it is the only hockey pitch in Lusaka, although he learned to play the sport in the Copperbelt region of the country. It was the OYDC that drew him to Lusaka, where he became a manager for the team.
Training at the center has grown hockey in Zambia to about 300 registered senior men and 200 registered senior women, Chomba said. On top of that there are over 500 junior players that regularly train at the OYDC.
The pitch at the OYDC is a grass and sand field, which is much different from the synthetic fields in top level international competition. There are no International Hockey Federation certified turf fields in the entire country.
“To make it through the qualifiers to come to the Olympics all the way to the semi finals, I’m very proud,” Chomba said.
After finishing up the tournament at the 2018 Youth Olympic Games, the Zambian team will work to integrate the five-a-side team in the senior eleven-a-side national team in an effort to boost its overall quality. Hockey in Africa is limited to only a few countries competing at an elite level, and the sport has not featured in the African Games since 2003.
During the 2016-17 FIH Hockey World League five African sides competed in the men’s league, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, Namibia and South Africa. In the women’s league only Nigeria, Kenya, Ghana, and South Africa competed. In both the Men’s and Women’s World Cup in 2018 South Africa was the only African country to qualify.
The 2018 African Youth Games served as a qualifying tournament for the 2018 YOG hockey tournaments. Two men’s team and three women’s teams from Africa took part in the tournament.
Zambia won two of its five group matches to make the quarterfinals, and then upset Australia to play for a medal.
The Zambian team can hold their heads up high following the tournament (ATR)
Josef Mubanga, the captain of the five-a-side squad, told ATR
that he had been training at the OYDC for six or seven years before going to Buenos Aires. He said that the impact of the center on his sporting career has been immense, but also the center “improve [your] life and takes you somewhere else where you were not expecting to be”.
“Without [the OYDC] we wouldn’t have been able to participate in tournaments like this,” Mubanga said. “They did a good job for us.”
Mubanga smiled when asked if he's hoping to see himself at the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo and said "that's what we are hoping for".
After relishing in the successes of the 2018 YOG tournament, coaches at the OYDC can look forward to a much closer, and therefore cheaper, experience at the 2022 YOG. The IOC awarded the event to Dakar, Senegal, the first ever Olympic event to be held on the continent of Africa.
It was not just the cost of travelling to Algeria which was prohibitive to the Zambian hockey team, but also the added expense of going all the way to Argentina after qualifying. In four years, both teams ideally will get to compete in their “homeland,” in Olympic competition Chomba said, a much more feasible prospect.
“Everyone can make it and everyone will boost morale and make African countries want to do even better.”
Coverage of the Buenos Aires 2018 Youth Olympic Games is made possible in part by BA 2018
Written by Aaron Bauer in Buenos Aires
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