Ellina Mhlanga Sports Reporter
Minister of Sport and Recreation Makhosini Hlongwane has pledged the Government’s full support for the Zimbabwe women’s Under-21 hockey team that qualified for the Junior World Cup to be held in Chile later this year.
Hlongwane met part of the team on their arrival yesterday at the Harare International Airport from the Junior Africa Cup which was held recently in Namibia.
Some of the players flew directly to their respective bases outside the country.
And Hlongwane yesterday pledged the Government’s full support of the team during their preparations for the global event.
“They will be in Chile representing the people of Zimbabwe and to that extent therefore the Government naturally should assume responsibility of their travelling itineraries, travelling arrangements, putting together the logistics, working together with them and necessarily funding that process.
“I am going to be lobbying my colleagues to make sure that, that is realised.
This is very important for us as a country that hockey has once again come back in this manner. So certainly (the) Government is going to get involved,” said Hlongwane.
The Junior World Cup is scheduled to run from November 23 to December 4 in Santiago, Chile.
The Zimbabwe women’s side qualified for the event when they finished second in the Junior Africa Cup in Namibia.
South Africa were the winners of the tournament.
This is the second time that the women’s team has qualified for the Junior World Cup following their qualification for the 2005 edition held in Chile also.
Hlongwane congratulated the team and said he is aware of the financial constraints that the national association is facing.
“I am aware (the) Hockey Association of Zimbabwe managed to send two teams despite the economic conditions currently faced by the association.
However, this move was not in vain as they believed in the talent that they have, which eventually led to this very important qualification.
“On behalf of His Excellency President Mugabe, the Government of Zimbabwe and my own behalf, I would like to congratulate the ladies for making it to the Junior World Cup.
I would also like to congratulate the men for getting a bronze medal in this tightly fought tournament in Namibia.
“I would like to urge the hockey ladies team to continue working diligently in preparation for the World Cup and remember that the whole nation will eagerly follow up on your progress until you reach the World Cup and conquer the world,” said Hlongwane.
The minister promised to host a luncheon for the team in a few weeks’ time where he said they will have more time to talk about the Junior World Cup preparations.
The Zimbabwe women’s team coach, Trish Davies, attributed their success in Namibia to the players for remaining positive during the tightly contested competition and pointed out that there is need to begin preparations early for the Junior World Cup.
“They really played brilliantly, I mean they played with all their hearts. South Africa and Namibia have more players (who play field hockey), therefore they are a bit more skilled than us.
But to see a team like that playing with so much heart, that’s what won them the game, they never ever gave up.
“Now we should have more time to train for the tournament. We had only two months to train for this tournament (the Junior Africa Cup), so if we can put more work now we should hopefully get more players and better results in the future,” Davies said.
Davies, who was part of the “Golden Girls team that won Zimbabwe’s first Olympic gold medal at the Moscow Games way back in 1980, said she was happy to be in a position to help the current crop of players write their own success stories.
“It’s always great to be able to put something back and help the players. So to see them play like that for me it’s an honour to be part of their team and help them out,” said Davies.
The men’s team captain, Graydon Thornton, believes with more exposure for the teams they can do better in the future.
“As a team it was nice to get out and get a bit of exposure because there is quite a huge bridge to try and cross to the different levels of hockey.
“As a team we were happy we were third. Of course, everyone wants to try and qualify for the World Cup, no one wants to finish third, everyone thrives to finish top.
But in the long I think as a country and a team we need to try to focus a bit more on developing hockey, getting a bit more friendlies (matches) against other countries that will be the best option I think,” said Thornton.
The team travelled in batches to and from Namibia as the players had to pay for their travelling expenses after HAZ failed to raise enough money for the trip.
Some of the players had to travel by road and were expected in Bulawayo yesterday.