Future of Welsh hockey still ‘in the balance’ despite historic first World Cup win

Wales want to close out their debut World Cup appearance with a top 10 finish

THE sight of Wales men’s hockey team celebrating their first victory at a World Cup is neccesary to improve the fabric of the men’s game in Wales, says a key figure.

Wales qualified for the Men’s Hockey World Cup for the first time in their 128-year history, but director of performance at Hockey Wales, Kevin Johnson, told The Cardiffian they didn’t make the near 5,000-mile trip to India to just “have fun”.

After three morale-sapping group defeats against England, Spain and hosts India, Wales rallied to secure a dramatic penalty shoot-out win against France. Their sights are now set on a ninth-placed finish in the tournament – the highest still available to them.

“We left for India wanting to prove to ourselves that we can compete with the best,” he said.

“The first two losses against England and Spain were frustrating, but we put on an impressive show against hosts India.”

Three losses meant Wales finished fourth in their group, setting up the clash with France to determine their final placement.

“We actually came into the game against France with confidence,” Mr Johnson said. “They didn’t expect us to be so fired up”.

Against the odds, Wales beat France as keeper Toby Reynolds-Cotterill saved four of France’s five attempts in a penalty shootout.

The win means Wales now have the chance to secure a ninth-placed finish in the tournament, if they beat 2016 Olympic Champions Argentina.

Mr Johnson said: “It was a huge statement by us. Saturday will be another tough game, but we’re hoping that this has been enough to get people to sit up and take note of Welsh hockey.”

The short term goal is beating Argentina but a World Cup win could be deceiving to those outside the sport. Mr Johnson said there is “still a lot of work to do” as resources and funding are still a major issue.

“It’s been well reported that we have to fund ourselves here in Wales by Sports Wales,” he said.

“Whilst we appreciate the funding we do get, we feel that our progress means we should be getting more.”

It costs a hockey player in Wales around £1,500 a year just to compete, with additional funding required for trips abroad, such as the one to India earlier this month. Additional funding needs to be found through other means – like GoFundMe.

Money at the top is just one of the issues, argues Mr Johnson, who has concerns for the future of the game at a grassroots level.

“We need more media exposure to get kids taking up hockey,” he said. “We know facilities are an issue but now is a great time to get involved.

“We’ve got some inspiring role models playing for us at the moment and although the girls’ side of hockey is going great, we would like to see more boys start playing at a club level. The future of the game is still in the balance.

“More money at a local level will mean parents aren’t deterred by the costs of hockey, if the international hockey is going well, we’re hoping this can lead to more support.”

Wales face Argentina on Saturday at 4.30pm GMT.