A voice to be Herd – The magical words of “Sporting Legacy”

When London was awarded the honour of hosting the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games, it was with the promise that legacy would be more than a word – it would be a tangible, sustainable commitment to transform lives through participation in sport and an understanding of the Olympic ideals,” Colin Moynihan, British Olympic Association Chairman.

Today is Friday 27th July which means 2 things; thanks for all the birthday wishes for yesterday and at 9pm tonight all of Sebastian Coe’s dreams come true as the opening ceremony for the games of the 30th Olympiad will open at the Olympic Stadium in the east end of London. The Olympics are a contentious subject for some for a variety of reasons and for some it’s just a celebration of sport, competition and the cultural coming together of people from across the world in the spirit of the aforementioned.

I fall in between both of those categories. There is a lot that has been done wrong in the build up to the games but a lot that has been done right, the main thing being the promotion and investment (though in a variety of different levels and that’s another blog entirely) in “minority” sports all in the name of providing a “sporting legacy”

The one sport that personally interests me in all that is handball. Handball is a sport that I discovered in Germany and whilst it didn’t capture my imagination in the same way that hockey did, it’s a very fun sport to watch. The British handball team for men and women had never played in the Olympics and was never likely to until the Olympics gave the vision of a British team in all 26 sports. Players put careers and studies on hold to dedicate themselves to the programme. To gain experience, 5 of the men’s team signed for a near bankrupt team in Essen in the German Handball Bundesliga (arguably the top league in Europe), shared a 2 bedroom flat and slept on a floor to play and hone their craft. Even then it wasn’t guaranteed that the sides would be granted host places at the Olympics until it could be proved that Britain wasn’t doing it just to have a team in the Olympics. They had to show that the programme for men and women was in it for the long haul, development and all. The teams suffered funding setbacks but the whole deal for British Handball was getting this team ready for the Olympics and competing there.

Handball is a rather extreme example but all 26 sports in the Olympics for Great Britain have bought into the idea of the sporting legacy and moving British sport forward.

Any ideas what sport really needs to learn from that?

It’s really easy to take shots at how British hockey is organised. We all know that the system is broken in more ways than David Beckham’s famous metatarsal however the wave of public popularity for sport in this country that will come off the back of hosting the biggest sporting spectacle this country offers needs to start ringing alarm bells in the heads of those who run the sport in this country.

The boost in popularity (and possibly funding) that would come from getting the men’s and women’s sides into the Olympics would be massive and could give younger players a real goal to aim for. What are young players in this country aiming for at the moment? To play abroad? To play in the Elite League? To make a bit of spare cash alongside their 9-5 job? The sport lacks any real direction at the highest level from those in charge and I’m begging them to look at the lessons from the preparations and performances of minority sports sides at London 2012 to bring the targets of Sochi 2014 and Pyeongchang 2018 into sharp focus.

I don’t expect things to change overnight nor do I expect anyone to really take my ideas seriously. As I once told a leading figure in British ice hockey, I’m just an articulate loud mouth but if nobody else is going to offer up any ideas as to what can be done it may as well be me.

There are logistical challenges (the financial state of many clubs for one thing) but the goal has to be a shift of focus. It’s not a total shift of focus, we don’t need to sacrifice the on ice product but the end goal for British players needs to have “be part of a successful national team” as a bigger part of that and to be frank the egos of some need to be put to one side and heads removed from backsides to make that happen. Whilst most of my ideas will be more feasible for the men’s team, I hope they could also apply to the women’s side which is equally deserving of our support. So here are my suggestions;

 

1. At the start of each season, form an elite long squad

I’m not proposing central contracts like in cricket but at the start of the season IHUK along with the coaching staff should pick a squad of around 35 players who know that they are the provisional GB squad for the world championships the following year. Players can obviously be swapped in and out of the squad but rather than having to slap a team together at the end of 8 months, players will have some basic idea as to who they might be playing with. This should help with the very basic concept of building a team. Britain isn’t Canada, we don’t have the talent to to just rock up and play so fostering teamwork can only help in the long run. This also leads into point 2.

 

2. Respect the IIHF international breaks and play in them

Why do teams do this? It’s preparation for the world championships and Olympic qualifying. It’s getting players playing together to work out line combinations and how to play with each other. Britain need not go abroad at every opportunity, though for the men to compete in something like the Austria Cup would be impressive, but even playing a smaller hockey nation like Belgium or Iceland in a smaller venue like Hull or Guildford and touring the national sides in these breaks could hopefully get more people interested and behind the national team. The many great people who are involved in the Great Britain Supporters Club do good work but so many hockey fans I speak to are indifferent about the national side. That can’t be right. Whether EPL and NIHL would need a total shut down is interesting and likely wouldn’t be necessary but EIHL sides scared of losing revenue could put on events for the fans off the ice to bring in money. There’s more than one way to skin a cat, speak to your supporters clubs.

 

3. Ideally, the national coach should be a full time job

This is the big one money wise and I admit it’s just a personal preference. It’s nothing against Tony Hand and Paul Thompson proved that you can coach a club side and the national side but if the goal is playing with the big boys it means needing to act like the big boys and that means having the national coach doing it full time where they can scout their players as a job and prepare for the sole goal of making the national side successful.

 

Those are the big 3 ideas I have for the moment because I think that’s a good start. There is obviously a lot more than that to be done but ideas to start with are better than no ideas at all. That commitment to the transforming power of sport that Mr Moynihan talked about above is something British ice hockey needs to look at throughout this Olympic games and grab a hold of with both hands to change the sport in the short term for our current best and fire out future international players onto the biggest international stage. By changing part of the focus of our sport we will grow our sport and ensure its future, its sustainability and its growth. Sadly I feel those at the top are too happy with the status quo and their own games that they play to learn the lessons they should be learning from the Olympic ones. However we need to meddle to get closer to any sort medal. Let the games begin.

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