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News for 06 April 2020

All the news for Monday 6 April 2020

Jose Brasa on life under lockdown in Spain and Belgium

Former India coach Jose Brasa, a Spaniard currently restricted to his residence in Belgium where he has been coaching, gave an overview of the situation in both countries.

Uthra Ganesan

Former India coach Jose Brasa, who visited his family in Spain from March 8-12, has been confined to his apartment in Belgium since then with Spain announcing lockdown on March 13.   -  Rajeev Bhatt

Jose Brasa might have been India’s hockey coach almost a decade ago but he continues to be one of the most popular ones with the players. The Spaniard, currently restricted to his residence in Belgium where he has been coaching, gave an overview of the situation in both countries – specially Spain, which has emerged as the new hotspot for COVID-19.

What is the situation in Spain right now?

In Spain, it is a rather serious situation in those Autonomies where local governments have sold public hospitals to private health care, as is the case in Madrid. The Intensive Care Units in hospitals are saturated and they cannot attend to all the patients, the doctors have to do ‘war medicine’ and choose to save the strongest patients and let those who are very serious die.

In Belgium, it is much less serious and the health system in Belgium is sufficient for now. I am training the Old Club of Liege in Belgium. I visited my family in Spain from March 8-12 and have been confined to my apartment here since then with Spain announcing lockdown on March 13.

Are you aware of any hockey player or any other famous sportsperson who may have been affected by the virus?

I don’t know of any active hockey player today who is seriously affected. Some have had slight symptoms without having to be hospitalised. Among ex-sportsmen, many in their 70s and 80s have died. People over 80 are at risk, and more so if they are male. Former football club presidents have also died of coronavirus but all of them were very old, over 70 years.

Are you aware of any player in any sport who may be involved in supportive activities to fight the pandemic?

Yes, in hockey there are many current and former players who are doctors, nurses or physical therapists working in hospitals. The ones in Madrid are having the worst time but in every city they have a lot of work to do.

How do you keep yourself busy?

I keep busy watching and analysing videos of our games this season. I also watch games from last European Cup on TV and study. All leagues are suspended in both Belgium and Spain right now.

The difference is that in Belgium they have been terminated and the champions and promotions have been decided according to the current rankings. On April 2, the Belgian Hockey Federation declared that the National League was over and promotions and relegations were decided by classifications obtained by teams in the first round. In football, they decided to take in consideration all matches played till now. This decision has been taken in almost all sports to avoid possible unnecessary contagion when the confinement is over.

In Spain, the situation is totally opposite. Competitions are temporarily suspended. Football has not terminated the leagues and it seems they want to resume, if not with spectators then behind closed doors.

Are you in touch with your players and club? How do the players stay safe, busy and fit?

Yes, all players, coaching staff and I are in contact through social networks, with groups where we send messages to each other. We also talk to each other on the phone and by video conference.

To be safe, the players are kept confined to their homes, and they go out to train and run, one at a time, complying with government rules. They also receive exercises to perform coordination, strength, abdominal and core training sessions at their homes.

“All leagues are suspended in both Belgium and Spain right now. The difference is that in Belgium they have been terminated and the champions and promotions have been decided. In Spain, the situation is totally opposite. Competitions are temporarily suspended.”

Are any of your players directly or indirectly affected?

Only one player from my team has been infected by the virus but he is young and strong, his symptoms have been mild and he’s cured now. Both him and his girlfriend have had to stay home in total quarantine during the illness and will be so for the next two weeks. Almost all of us have probably been in contact with the coronavirus because if this player was infected and the symptoms start two weeks after the infection, during those two weeks we all were with him, touched him, hugged him and the rest of us have been lucky to not develop the disease.

How do you manage to stay safe? Is free movement of people allowed or are there restrictions?

The most important thing to stay safe is ‘Stay home’. In Spain the restriction is total, you cannot leave your home, except for workers in engaged in maintenance essential services including hospitals, pharmacies and food supermarkets. In Belgium the situation is not so serious. All people in activities that do not involve crowds of people can go to work, taking precautionary measures recommended by the government -- not to come within 2m of another, not to touch each other. Public places are closed but you can go out to train, individually, and each person has to keep a distance of 5m from others.

How do you see the global sporting scene over the next one year?

The important thing now is to save people’s lives and wait for a vaccine to be discovered. The authorities have done well to postpone competitions until 2021. This will give athletes time and facilities to train and to optimally prepare for major competitions including the Olympics.


Irresponsibility, dismantling of public health services has impacted Spain negatively, former India Hockey coach Jose Brasa

Former India hockey coach Spaniard Jose Brasa, currently in Belgium, speaks on why Spain has been badly hit by COVID-19

Jose Brasa. 

Former India hockey coach Jose Brasa, a Spaniard, is currently restricted to his residence in Liège, Belgium, where he has been coaching. He took time to explain the situation in both countries — especially Spain, which has emerged as the new hotspot for COVID-19. In a detailed response to The Hindu’s Uthra Ganesan, Mr. Brasa also explained the unique challenges in Spain given its complex federal and de-centralised political structure that makes the “Autonomous Communities” or “Autonomies” or specific regions as responsible as the central leadership in dealing with the pandemic.

What is the health and medical situation in Spain right now?

In Spain it is a rather serious situation in those Autonomous Communities where local governments have sold public hospitals to private healthcare, as is the case in Madrid. The Intensive Care Units in hospitals are saturated and they cannot attend to all the patients, the doctors have to do ‘war medicine’ and choose to save the strongest patients, and let those who are very serious die.

In Belgium, the situation is much less serious and the health system in Belgium is sufficient for now.

How safe are the people at the moment? Are you, or anyone you know, directly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic?

I am fine, confined to my apartment in Belgium, and my family in Madrid is without any contagion. have set myself the goal of not leaving the house for 30 days, or longer if I can. On March 20, I went out to buy fruits and vegetables and since then I have not left my apartment for 16 days. I am doing so as a matter of solidarity in order to comply with the spirit of the law — there is no total lockdown in Belgium for now.

I have a nephew who is a doctor in a public hospital in Madrid, working several hours every day without rest, because there are few doctors in the Public Health Service in Madrid. The right-wing governments of the Autonomous Community of Madrid have greatly reduced the health budget and eliminated many doctors in the last 20 years, so the few that remain have a lot of work, and are overwhelmed by the huge numbers of sick people in Madrid.

How is the government handling the situation?

The central government is doing well, it is helping all the Autonomous Communities a lot. It is important to know that in Spain, the money and the responsibility of health[care], of the hospitals, is in the hands of the local governments. It is the Governors of the Autonomous Communities who have to deal with health problems with their budgets.

In Madrid and some other Autonomous Communities governed by right-wing political parties, the Governors have not devoted money in recent years and have been reducing the public health budget year after year, and now those suffering from coronavirus are dying due to lack of resources.

What is the situation in your city and locality?

In Liège here [in Belgium], there are few infections and the situation is under control, the hospital emergency rooms are not overcrowded. In Madrid, where my family is, the situation is serious.

How do you manage to stay safe? Is free movement of people allowed or are there restrictions?

The most important thing to stay safe is ‘stay home’. In Spain, the restriction is total, you cannot leave your home, except for workers engaged in maintenance of essential services, including hospitals, pharmacies and food supermarkets. All schools, universities, restaurants, cafeterias, bars, pubs, sports facilities, hockey clubs, gyms — everything is closed. Sportspersons are not allowed to train outside.

In Belgium, the situation is not so serious. All people in activities that do not involve crowds of people can go to work, taking precautionary measures recommended by the government — not to come within 2 metres of another, not to touch each other. Public places are closed but you can go out to train [for sports], individually, and each person has to keep a distance of 5 metres from others. The difference between Belgium and Spain is that here [in Belgium], people respect the rules.
Spain is considered among the more developed countries in Europe with a good social and healthcare system. Why do you think it has been so severely affected?

Because of people’s irresponsibility in not following the rules and because of the bad examples given by some leaders. The dismantling of the Public Health Service has also had a very negative influence.

As someone who knows India very well, what lessons do you think Indians and the Indian government can learn from Spain to minimise deaths and infections?

The safest and most important thing to stop the coronavirus is to lockdown, which is already ordered now in India. Staying indoors is the best way to prevent the coronavirus from spreading rapidly and clogging up hospital emergency rooms. Only by avoiding contagion can the pandemic be prevented. This means washing your hands with soap many times for a minute, not touching others, not touching your face with your hands yourself.

I hope and wish with all my heart that the coronavirus will not spread in India, and that it will not kill many people.

The Hindu

Motivating 25 girls under MCO

By Jugjet Singh

Lailin Abu Hassan

While Malaysian families try to keep their children entertained at home during the Movement Control Order (MCO), Olympian Lailin Abu Hassan has 25 more girls to manage.

Thenational women’s junior coach is doing it with the help of social media, and it’s not just training them from a distance, but also keeping check of their medical and mental status.

“Boredom is beginning to set in. The young players have been cooped up for a long time, and they do not know when they can go back to being on the artificial pitch again.

“Via a WhatsApp group, I tell them what kind of training to do on certain days and after completing their tasks, they upload their activities for me to monitor.

“I alternate fitness with skills and other motor exercises to keep them busy.

“The problem now is that nobody knows when the situation will be back to normal, so I can’t start a proper training programme leading up to the Junior Asia Cup, which has also been postponed,” said Lailin, who also has children of his own.

The Junior Asia Cup, a qualifier for the Junior World Cup, initially scheduled this month in Japan has been called off due to the Covid-19 virus.

The new dates have yet to be announced by the Asian Hockey Confederation (AHF), who are adamant to hold the tournament this year.

“Most of my players have returned to their respective hometowns, and those with yards find it easier to train and cope with boredom.

“A few who stayed back in Kuala Lumpur and are cooped up in flats and apartments are finding it more difficult to train.

“It is also more stressful living in a flat, so I have to keep motivating them.

“I also monitor their health with guidelines given by the National Sports Institute and the National Sports Council,” Lailin added.

New Straits Times

Inside an unusual offseason for Erin Matson and the UNC field hockey team

BY Ryan Wilcox

The Tar Heels haven't lost a game the last two seasons. How are they staying motivated, stuck at home amidst the spread of COVID-19?

Erin Matson battles for the ball against an Iowa defender. Abe Loven

In 2019, UNC’s Erin Matson led the nation in points and goals per game, was named national player of the year and helped the Tar Heels to an eighth national championship. The sophomore was the linchpin of a team that completed a second straight perfect season with a 6-1 rout of Princeton in November. Around this time of year, she’d normally be in Chapel Hill, doing offseason workouts, hanging out with teammates and wrapping up her spring semester.

Instead, the best field hockey player in the country is at home in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, learning how to draw with charcoal and print T-shirts.

“I can’t complain,” she said. “But I’m pretty bored.”

While the spread of COVID-19 has resulted in the cancellation of the remainder of all winter and spring sports seasons, it’s also meant that fall sports teams are effectively inhibited from their normal offseason routines. A number of Matson’s teammates are quarantining in Chapel Hill, but plenty more are not, and wouldn’t be advised to meet up in large numbers even if they were.

It would be difficult enough, one imagines, to muster up enthusiasm in the midst of a 46-game winning streak that goes back to August of 2018. Then add in a global pandemic that has social isolation at an all-time high and motivation at an all-time low. Players would be forgiven if they spent their days on “Tiger King” instead of stick skills.

But Matson doesn’t see it that way. She’s never looked forward to offseason workouts more — because they’re simply something to do, she admits, but also the dividends they could pay down the road.

“We’re all stuck in the same situation,” Matson said. “If we can make the best out of it, we can come back in the fall that much more ahead of every other team.”
'A really internally driven bunch'

That attitude permeates. James Ayscue heads the strength and conditioning program for Carolina Field Hockey, having worked with the team through both title runs in 2018 and 2019. He hasn’t had any problems keeping Matson and her teammates motivated.

“I don’t have to worry about that with them,” he said. “Honestly, sometimes my biggest concern is that they’re gonna do too much and overtrain themselves.”

“It makes my job easier because that sometimes can be the hardest part,” Ayscue continued. “A lot of it is mental, and having the right mindset. With these girls, that’s never really an issue.”

The state of things, however, has forced Ayscue to be flexible. Using an app called Teamworks, he regularly sends the team different documents with strength and conditioning routines. All workouts are optional, per the NCAA, and must be attuned to the resources each player has at her disposal.

“We’re having to get a little more creative,” Ayscue said. “Especially for the girls who don’t really have much access to anything equipment-related.”

It’s similar to the summertime, when players might be out of town without workout gear or access to a field hockey turf. Ayscue sends the team demonstration videos of different exercises via text, constantly trying to keep things fresh.

“If it’s not the same old stuff that they’re used to,” he said, “they’re a little more inclined, especially when they’re on their own, to jump into it.”

Still, there are problems. Ayscue can’t be there in person to give players pep talks or correct their technique on an exercise. Live Zoom sessions, he says, would be largely pointless, as he’s just one set of eyes and can only see so much. And everyday conditioning is different from field hockey conditioning: there’s an added emphasis on keeping your hips low, as one would in a game, and being able to change directions quickly.

Still, Ayscue isn’t worried. A hands-off approach, more often than not, gets the job done.

“They’re a really internally driven bunch,” he said. “They’re pretty good at holding each other accountable, and they’re a pretty close-knit group.”
'They want to do it again'

Matson says she’s tried to keep as normal of a schedule as possible, given the circumstances. Class in the morning, workouts in the afternoon. Throughout the day, she checks in via the team’s group chains over text and Snapchat. Later at night, maybe it’s having dinner with teammates via Zoom or hopping on FaceTime.

“I think we’re gonna start doing some of those Netflix watch parties, where we can all chat while watching a movie,” she said.

“As a team, we’re so close,” she added. “So being separated like this is really foreign for us.”

The rest of the team is trying to stick to a routine, too. On Wednesday, the Tar Heels had their first virtual film session, with clips of themselves from last season and international teams. How do you improve on perfection? Let Head Coach Karen Shelton count the ways: the young backfield needs to improve its ball speed, players have to reposition more urgently and how will they replace a loss of experience in the front line?

“They’re realistic,” Shelton said of her squad. “I don’t think it’s a cocky group. They did win, but I think they’re realistic about where they are and where they need to go to get better.”

The team also holds sports psychology meetings, largely run by its four-member “leadership group,” Courtnie Williamson, Eva Smolenaars, Amanda Hendry and Matson, to ensure everyone’s in a good headspace: “Just making sure everyone’s happy right now, because it is weird for everybody,” Matson said.

Those four act as the go-betweens for the rest of the players and the coaching staff. Shelton looks to that group — especially Matson — to be the coaches on the field and a source of guidance off of it.

“She commands such great respect because she’s such a good player,” Shelton said. “She’s earned that ability by working hard and being as good as she is. As a coach, you’re just so proud and thankful you have a leader like this, that doesn’t just sit back and know that they’re the best player on the team, but that she’s actually working on things that she can do to improve herself.”

Ayscue surmised that Matson, the two-time ACC Offensive Player of the Year, is the best field hockey player in the country and one of the best in the world. She’s also been the one leading the charge in the offseason, becoming more vocal, her coach says, and holding teammates accountable when it comes to those offseason workouts.

“We would expect the kids to prepare themselves to the best of their ability,” Shelton said. “The best will do it. The others will look for excuses.”

Matson may be bored at home like the rest of us, and she may be picking up hobbies like she’s at a summer art camp. But those in the program say she hasn’t forgotten where her priorities lie. Neither have her teammates.

“They can appreciate what we did last year, and they’re thankful,” Shelton said. “But I think they want to do it again. You get hungry for that. You want to keep winning.”

The Daily Tar Heel

How Kakamega boy Okombe is living his dream in Italy

By Washington Onyango

Kenya international Griffin Okombe (left) of Italian side Potenza Picena in a past Seria A2 match. [Washington Onyango,Standard]

The former Kenyatta University player wants to win the Europe Hockey League and guide Kenya to the 2024 Olympics.

Griffin Okombe has one set of goals in mind every time he suits up for the Hockey Club Potenza Picena: to be the best he can be, help his team win, make his family proud and leave a legacy.

Those goals mean a lot to him. They fuel how he plays. The same player, who is calm and collected off the court, has a fiery passion to play his heart out in practice sessions and during game nights.

Once a shy freshman, who had trouble adjusting to life in the varsity hockey team, his professional career has blossomed into something he hardly imagined.

From playing for the Kakamega High School second-string team, to starring in the Kenya Hockey Union (KHU) Premier League for Kenyatta University, Okombe has progressed to be one of Kenya’s finest players.

After a two-year playing stint in the premier league, his determination and ambitions saw him drafted in the Kenya national team, which further opened a bigger door; an opportunity to play professional in Italy for Hockey Club Potenza Picena, in 2018.

As is with any epic tale, one must start from humble beginnings, which in this case, was Eldoret, where Okombe was born in September 1994.

Born in a family of six (fifth born), Okombe grew up with a passion for drama during his childhood years at Aligula Primary School in Soy, Eldoret.

“In primary school, I studied with guys who were way older and bigger than me. I did not have the body to compete with them in sports. So I resorted to drama, though deep down, I had the liking of playing football,” says the 26-year-old player.

The success began when Okombe joined Western region giants Kakamega High School in 2009.

Though popularly known for rugby and football prowess, Kakamega High moulded Okombe to be the player he is today.

“Kakamega High is a football and rugby powerhouse. I could not make it to the school’s football team and therefore, opted for hockey, which was not very competitive. I wanted to play any sport just for fun,” he said.

Okombe credits the school’s games master Peter Cetera and some senior players for helping him to be a better player.

“I’ve learned a lot from Cetera and the senior players,” he said. “They used to give me a lot of advice, which helped me through the game.”

“Nicknamed ‘carrot’ because of his pint-sized body frame, Okombe soldiered on from the school’s second-string team to break into the first team when he was in Form Two.

He went on to guide the school to a third-place finish at both the Kenya Secondary School Association (KSSSA) national Term One games and East Africa games in 2011.

He was also voted the Most Improved Player during the 2012 KSSSA games.

For Okombe, however, playing real hockey began after he joined Kenyatta University in 2014.

“When I joined Kenyatta University, I was lucky because they had a hockey team competing in the Kenya National League and Kenya University Sports Association (KUSA).”

“Since I was a freshman, getting to play just one match as a bench player was a big achievement for me. The team was full of talent, a lot of competition and I knew that called for commitment,”he said.

“I had to settle for the KUSA games because the National League required more experience.”

The KUSA tournament offered him the chance to push things one-step further.

It was Moses Kagochi’s appointment as the head coach in 2016 that acted as a catalyst to his game’s improvement.

“He introduced new systems and modern hockey playing styles. He really pushed us and especially me, whom after showing my commitment to play, he was really at my back guiding me in every step I made in the game.”

His loyalty and determination would came in handy in 2018 when coach Kagochi shared some of his videos with Italian scouts at an International Hockey Federation Seminar in Tanzania.

“Kagochi was part of an Educator Bench during one of the hockey seminars in Tanzania and he called to inform me that I have been selected by a team in Italy, who wanted to sign me.”

His dreams came true in June 2018 after he signed for Hockey Club Potenza Picena, which plays in the Italian Serie A2 (super league).

Life in Italy was new to Okombe, who made his debut three days after arriving at Marche Region, Picena City. Language barrier was a big hindrance to his performance.

Understanding his teammates was also a challenge but he soldiered on.

After just three matches, fate conspired against him as he broke a finger, which saw him sidelined for two months. He then returned back home.

“It was painful to be out for two months just when I had began to get used to my teammates. However, it was during the start of winter games and I did not miss many matches since most of the matches were played in-doors.”

After healing, he went back to Italy and picked up from where he had left. In 2019, he became a regular in the starting line up, where he played as a utility midfielder.

He was so aggressive and full of potential that saw him being voted Serie A2 Player of the Month for November 2019. He was also included in the Serie 2 Team of the Week in October.

Picena is currently third in the standings with 14 points in the 2020 Serie A2 season, but the league has been halted due to the Coronavirus pandemic.

Picena head coach Stefano Muscela describes Okombe as the engine of the team, which the crowd hardly notices, but has a great impact in the game.

“Griffo is the kind of player the crowd won’t normally see, because he works hard, runs a lot, does the dirty job, while his teammates are struggling to create a goal.”

“His impact in the team is big.”

The Standard Digital

FIH Pro League visit adds another level of inspiration

In these very uncertain times it is sometimes good to take stock and reflect upon what is good and positive in the world. The United Nations inspired International Day of Sport for Peace and Development takes place on 6 April and as part of the celebrations day, FIH is highlighting projects and initiatives from around the world that are showcasing the power of hockey to change society for the better.

Creating sports environments that are inclusive and safe is at the heart of the BDO Aspire Learn Well, Live Well, Lead Well Indigenous hockey programme.

And, in an effort to inspire its participants, organisers used the FIH Hockey Pro League matches between Australia and Argentina to add another level of motivation and desire to succeed among seven young women from Far North Queensland currently taking part in the project.

As part of Hockey Australia’s first dedicated Indigenous weekend, students from Cairns Hockey’s Aspire to be Deadly programme were given the opportunity to be a unique part of the celebrations.

The Indigenous students selected for the trip were chosen from Cairns West State School after they had demonstrated high standards of leadership, commitment and responsibility at school, at home and through the hockey programme.

For three of the group, this was the first time they had been on an aeroplane as they flew to Perth from Cairns. Highlights of the trip included playing alongside current members of the Hockeyroos and Kookaburras in modified games during half time of the Pro League matches, meeting dual Olympian and former Hockeyroo Nova Peris OAM, and given prime viewing positions to watch Australia’s national teams in action.

For the seven students the experience was testimony to the success of the Aspire programme, something Hockey Australia CEO Matt Favier highlighted in an interview after the Pro League matches: “Considering all of the various elements and activations that took place around our first Indigenous themed round, having these young Indigenous girls from Cairns part of it and providing them with this experience was certainly one of the best things to come from the weekend.

“To see the smiles on their faces and the fun they had during their time in Perth is evidence of the positive difference and impact the Aspire to be Deadly Program is having in Far North Queensland.

“Huge credit to Julie McNeil and her team for what they are doing in this region, both from a hockey sense but more importantly from a life and wellbeing perspective.”

The Aspire programme has multiple aims: to improve school attendance, to support young women into leadership roles, to help raise levels of self-confidence and to highlight healthy lifestyle choices. Underlying these ambitions is the umbrella aspiration of opening opportunities for indigenous women.

Leading the programme is Cairns Hockey, who have partnered with the Australian Federal Government NIAA (formerly Indigenous Advancement Strategy). Through hockey programmes, the participating women and girls will develop strong life skills such as team work, problem-solving and addressing challenges head-on without resorting to defensive or aggressive behaviour.

The programme, which is led by general manager Julie McNeil, consists of a multi-week hockey programme. As part of the programme, participants develop the skills of the game but, says McNeil: “We align hockey skill learning with the understanding of holistic balance – where healthy and active choices will make you stronger, where setting and attaining achievable goals become stepping stones to broader opportunities.”

McNeil adds: “Sport is globally recognised and increasingly utilised as a vehicle to drive positive behaviour changes, in areas such as health and well-being, social cohesion, disability inclusion, gender equity and breaking down barriers of discrimination, language and culture and economic disadvantage suffered by underrepresented groups.”

Two new developments in the programme are the development of Aspire Schools Deadly 5’s programme and the Aspire Holiday Fun Places.

Both projects are the result of a collaboration between Cairns Hockey and its member clubs and the Cairns West State School. Deadly 5’s is aimed at year groups 3-6 and will provide a weekly after-school community hockey activity. The sessions align with the national curriculum delivery of PE and can be graded as part of each students’s PE experience. Up to 30 participants are expected to take part in the pilot project which should run for 25 weeks.

The Holiday Fun Places is a holiday programme delivered at Cairns West State School and it will be open to indigenous boys and girls as well as non-indigenous pupils already attending the school.

The Aspire programme is also proving its sustainability with over 25 young people participating in 2018 and 2019 Aspire Cairns West Teams are transitioning to Cairns Junior Clubs in 2020 through the Aspire Schools to Club Program.

And for seven young women, the trip to Perth and the chance to meet their hockey heroes will provide memories to last a lifetime.


FIH site

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