8th June 2018: Our FridayFocus this week comes with incredible joy and pleasure as the hockey world celebrates the Silver Jubilee of G-Hockey. G-Hockey in The Netherlands has now been going for 25 years and the players now play for the Dutch ParaHockey ID teams. 

Hans Mater, KNHB spoke to Hockey.nl during this week “The Netherlands currently has about 1,200 G-hockey players, 135 LG hockey players and 82 clubs where these forms of hockey are offered.”

Nevertheless, according to him, there is still a world to win. “There are more than 300 hockey clubs in the Netherlands alone there is still room to grow ParaHockey. An example of this is the region of the Northern Netherlands, where only hockey club Hockey club is played.

Mater added “I would like to suggest that clubs should seek more co-operation with each other in this area. If club A has five participants and club B also, then you can very well form a team. This way we keep our members and that is how we continue to connect via the hockey sport. In the end, playing games is what is most fun.”

Where did it all begin?

On the fields of MHC Zoetermeer, on 9 June 1993, the first training session was held for hockey players with intellectual disabilities. The initiator of this hockey form was Elsbeth Ruys at the time. Ruys: “It came about that a mother came to MHC Zoetermeer with the question whether her child with Down Syndrome could hockey in a regular team. In view of the possibilities, it seemed that the board – of which I was a part – was not sure. However, it did initiate the movement to think about hockey for people with disabilities. I then went to find out if anything in this direction existed in our country. This appeared to not be the case.”

Elsbeth Ruys and her daughter Charlotte

Holding back

Initially, the NSG (Dutch Sports Council for the Disabled) and the KNHB were not that enthusiastic, says Ruys. Thankfully, however, that turned quickly. “Hockey is a pretty technical sport and people had the idea that people with disabilities would not be able to learn this, if at all” says Ruys. “I then said that they also did not have to reach the level of the other hockey players. I was concerned that there was a possibility for hockey for all people. To explain LG hockey is a physical limitation. There are people with a university educations.” 

Three jubilees

The nice thing is that today three G-hockey players are still active, who were also present on 9 June 1993. Two of them are still playing at Zoetermeer (Noor van de Sande and Casper Statius Muller) and one at hockey club Lochem: Charlotte Ruys, the daughter of Elsbeth.

Casper Statius Muller and Noor van de Sande

Next Steps:

Tom Pedersen Smith, EHF Development and Education Manager said “Firstly I would like to sincerely thank Elsbeth Ruys, the woman who said why not instead of why when it came to starting G Hockey in The Netherlands. Her grit and determination started something very special in hockey for generations to come.” 

On where to now with ParaHockey ID, Tom was very clear on his vision for ParaHockey ID “My predecessor, Norman Hughes, left me in no doubt that the growth of hockey for everyone was something that should be a core element of my job. In the EHF we have been working closely with the FIH, Special Olympics and INAS to ensure that we can make hockey available for everyone. There is still a lot of work to do and currently we are focusing on ParaHockey ID, hockey for players with intellectual disabilities with our National Associations. We want to ensure that ParaHockey ID has strength and depth within our countries and that the biennial Euro ParaHockey ID Championships keeps growing to allow these athletes experience the challenge and joy of playing in a EuroHockey event.” 

The next steps we are working on are with our Members and the EHF Development Committee to communicate about all aspects and the different versions of ParaHockey that is widely played within some of our Nations in addition to ParaHockey ID that is the more established form.”

“We will be providing and communicating our vision to the hockey family information on how to continue to make hockey such an exciting, inclusive and family sport.”

Special Olympics:

Tom was delighted to report that this weekend in Doetinchem, The Netherlands, hockey will feature in the Special Olympics, The Netherlands, Belgium, Germany and Spain are participating. This will give hockey a place at the Special Olympics as the SO will recognize hockey as an SO sport for the first time. This is a major step for ParaHockey ID and opens up a world of amazing events for our athletes to compete in.

INAS Games:

“This will be followed by the INAS games in Paris at the end of June where we are supporting the FIH to create a global pathway for ParaHockey.” Tom was delighted to add. 

The journey, that started in 1993 in Zoetermeer, is very far away from complete, but it’s an exciting road for hockey to be on and indeed the start of a new era of inclusivity.

If you have FridayFocus stories that you want to share with us, contact Tom: development@eurohockey.org

Many thanks to Hockey.nl for their help with this week’s FridayFocus, including the great photos. 

Main photo is the current G-team of MHC Zoetermeer (Hockey.nl (c))