The Guardian is featuring a terrific article on Charlotte Edwards, captain of England's cricket team, which is achieving incredible international success and stepping out of the shadow of the far less successful but better-known men's team. Edwards talks of the sacrifices of career and relationships the team makes to be at the top of international competition. (Thanks David!)
This is pretty fantastic - the Australian women will be deviating from their standard green and gold attire for one match against the Argentineans at the upcoming Champions Trophy. From the WorldHockey article:
"Sue Murray, CEO of the NBCF, encourages all sports fans to get behind the Hockeyroos on Pink Ladies Day. “We’re thrilled that the Hockeyroos will be playing in pink to raise awareness of breast cancer research. With one in nine women expected to be diagnosed in their lifetime, it’s vital that we keep funding research into the prevention and cure of the disease. Research has shown that regular exercise can decrease the risk of breast cancer, so this partnership also sends a message to the community to embrace a healthy and active lifestyle.”"
The latest news has the EHL taking another important step towards creating an EHL for women's hockey with the restructuring of the EuroHockey Club Champions format. Now 12 club teams will compete in a similar format to the men's EHL in the championship, and just as importantly, Trophy and Challenge competitions will provide a format for clubs to compete against each other and improve their standard in the quest to reach the Championship tournament.
The naysayers are already out, pointing to the lack of competition outside the very top nations' clubs, and the relative lack of spectator interest in women's hockey as compared to men's. Where will the money come from to support a full women's EHL? Perhaps the naysayers are really asking the question, "what's so important about a women's EHL anyway?"
Let me share my own anecdote. Ten years ago, I traveled with my family down to Houston where my husband was working for a few weeks. One night, since my husband and stepson are big basketballers, we decided to take in a WNBA season opener game featuring the inaugural champion Houston Comets. As we strolled into the arena I marveled at all the kids breaking free from their grandparents to run around after each other, young girls sporting smaller versions of the "Swoopes" jerseys their moms wore, and the friendly atmosphere created by all these smiling faces of all ages. We arrived at our seats in time to see some of the pre-game warm-up and as I sat down in an already half-full arena, watching these giant women getting ready to do their job in playing a game they loved, I started crying.
Seriously, we hadn't even gotten to the anthem and I was bawling.
My stepson, who was too young to be embarrassed by my behaviour yet, looked up at me worriedly. "Are you ok?" I could only look at him, nod my head and smile - but I couldn't stop crying. It took me until well into the second quarter before I had composed myself.
So why did seeing professional female basketballers playing have such an emotional impact on me?
After all the years of playing hockey myself and being an immense sports fan, that was the first time I had gone to a professional event and seen myself out there. I'm not even a basketball player by any stretch, particularly not the 12" stretch I'd need in order to play, but I could still identify with these women. For all my life, every team sport I'd ever seen, and by "seen" that means on TV and thus played by professionals, had been almost solely occupied by men. As a kid, I couldn't turn on a sports channel and see someone playing who I'd think, "When I grow up I'm going to be just like him." I never could be.
When women and girls see other women playing at the top of their sport, we have someone we can identify with. We can be inspired. We can dream. We find out what these women have done to become the best, what they've sacrificed, what they've learned. Suddenly, everything is possible.
If field hockey is going to continue to grow to be one of the biggest sports in the world, we need more top-level women's hockey. After all, these women represent half of the potential players in the world. We need the incredibly well-produced spectacle, pomp and drama that is the men's EHL - for the rest of us.
The EHL is becoming the single most-talked about hockey event around the world. With its savvy web presence, well-populated YouTube channel and grassroots interest like on the popular international Field Hockey Forum, the EHL is hitting the mark and showing the way for hockey in the mainstream. As fellow blogger Britt Schneider says, the EHL is "a statement that hockey is as important (and exciting!) as any other sport in the world and it deserves attention."
Now it's time to turn the attention to the female athletes in our sport. Just imagine a generation of girls and women stumbling on the EHL website and seeing Maartje Paumen, Anke Kühn, or Maria Jesus Rosa in action and getting a chill up their spine or better yet, seeing them live in a crowded stadium and maybe getting a little teary themselves. Hockey definitely is a sport for everybody, and it's time to get everybody on stage.
From the EuroHockey website (or also posted on KNHB.nl) , a fantastic interview with Rob Ten Cate (NED) by Siobhán Madeley. Ten Cate talks candidly from his perspective as a soon-to-be-retired umpire at the top of the game, including how he's looking forward to the transition to a coaching role in his career.
Rob ten Cate (left) pictured at the Chinese wall during the Olympic Games in Beijing. (KNHB.nl)