Hockey ID – the world-wide term for hockey players with intellectual disabilities – has gained in popularity at different rates across the globe. In some areas the sport is now at such a point of development and progress that national teams will be heading to Berlin in 2023 for the Special Olympics. For other nations, they are at the start of their journey. 

Witnessing just what is possible is important for those countries aspiring to offer opportunities for athletes to participate in Hockey ID. Seeing an entire tournament in operation and understanding how the technical table, umpiring and general organisation is carried out is as important as providing a safe, fun and motivational coaching environment.

The African nations of Ghana, Uganda, Zambia and Malawi recently had two opportunities to visit and experience Hockey ID in Europe. At both the Special Olympics Netherlands National Games and at the 2022 EuroHockey ID Championships, which ran concurrently with the FIH Women’s World Cup in Amsterdam, representatives from the African nations were able to see what was required to run Hockey ID events successfully. Both events were organised, supported and run by the European Hockey Federation and the representatives from the African nations were part of the charity organisation The Hockey Dreams Foundation.

Norman Hughes is the EHF and FIH project lead for Hockey ID. He says: ‘For those nations just starting out with their Hockey ID groups, seeing what is possible 10 years on is a really powerful motivational tool. For the Hockey ID reps from the African nations to see how the Czech Republic, for example, is advancing from a basic level, or how the teams such as Portugal, Italy, Netherlands and Spain are so far along the development pathway is really important for development in their own countries.’

Hughes gave the example of umpiring: at the top level of Hockey ID the umpiring is far more stringent than at starter level. 

All four African nations have aspirations to play Hockey ID at the highest level. For the coming season that means the Special Olympics which take place in Berlin in July 2023. 

Hughes explains that the Special Olympics International organisation expects participating nations to have had programmes in place for at least a year before the start of the SOWG Berlin. Under this stipulation none of the African nations would be able to qualify as their programmes are only now taking shape. 

Egypt will be in Berlin but for the purposes of the Special Olympics they are classified as a Middle East country rather than an African nation. 

However, there may be a glimmer of hope for at least one of the African contenders. If one of the participating nations drop out at any point, then if they are registered as reserve nations, then there is a chance they might be allowed to take one of the 15 available places.

Talking about the recent events in Europe, Hughes said the visitors from Africa had been astounded at the level of performance by the teams. It was, he said, just further evidence that hockey coaches working in mainstream hockey could easily have a big impact on Hockey ID athletes.

‘A lot of hockey coaches are worried they do not have the necessary skillset or medical knowledge to coach Hockey ID. But actually, there is not much difference between regular coaching and Hockey ID. You set a practice up and they have a go; it really is about few words and plenty of action. 

‘The medical side is dealt with by staff at a centre and relatives. It helps if the coach has some knowledge but it is really not necessary. And it is astonishing how quickly a coach can take a group to a point where they can have a meaningful match.’

Hughes is also excited by the possibility of the Asian Hockey Federation and the Oceania Hockey Federation signing an Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Special Olympics Asia Pacific Region. European Hockey Federation signed a partnership MoU with Special Olympics Euroasia in Amsterdam in July and we are hopeful that these other CHFs will follow suit by the end of 2022. 

'This will be a great step forward for all our athletes offering even more opportunities both nationally and internationally,' he said.