Hockey World Cup 2018: High-flying Belgium reap fruits of domestic planning

Belgium’s domestic structure is club-driven. In the last one decade, the Belgium association has helped clubs generate funds. Since the money is pumped into clubs, players are benefitting.

Before the 2008 Beijing Olympics, the utmost target for Belgium was to qualify for the Games, something which they had been aiming at for almost a decade.

Belgium, who were out of Olympics hockey for 32 years, between 1976 and 2008, are now among the top nations after winning silver in the 2016 Rio Games.

So, what’s the secret behind Belgium’s remarkable turnaround? “Around two decades ago our hockey body — Royal Belgian Hockey Association — changed its vision and incorporated a new structure in the training programme and domestic hockey. They are the main reasons behind the results we are getting in the last four-five years. For 10 years until Beijing, the hockey body pegged its aim at qualifying for the Olympics. Once it achieved that, it shifted focus to podium finish in Rio and we all did it,” says Belgium forward Cédric Charlier, who was part of the Beijing and Rio squads.

Money in hockey

With one batch working long term to achieve qualification, Belgium launched a junior programme in 2006 with the target a podium finish in the Olympics. The high-potential scheme was started in coordination with the two national training centres in Braxgata and in Brussels. Many players in the current squad, including forwards Tom Boon and Florent van Aubel, are from that project.

“Apart from introducing a junior programme, our hockey body started strengthening the club (structure) and got money into the sport. Because of these initiatives, we are able to produce results in world hockey,” says skipper Thomas Briels, who was a member of the squad that played in the Olympics after 32 years and then saw the success in Rio. He played in the 2010 London Games too.

“Earlier, the players in our national team were not full time into hockey. They had to look beyond hockey for survival. But now the scenario is different. All the members in our team are professionals. If they are into some job, it is because of their own choice not because of lesser money in the sport,” adds Briels.

Strengthen club structure

Belgium’s domestic structure is club-driven. In the last one decade, the Belgium association has helped clubs generate funds. Since the money is pumped into clubs, players are benefitting.

“Earlier, there was hardly any money involved in the sport, but the hockey body, through the help of the Olympic association and government, got money into the sport,” says Briels. “Our association has told us ‘you concentrate on hockey’; they will take care of our financial requirements.”

With the Hockey Pro League starting in January, players in the national squad will be available for a shorter time in the first half of 2019. The Belgium hockey body has made changes to its domestic league structure to ensure the top players can feature in the Pro League and for their clubs.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *