Should Northern Ireland have its own hockey team?

Peter Jackson
Peter Jackson

In light of the recent switch of allegiance by Ian Sloan and David Ames from Ireland to England and GB, former Ireland Manager, Peter Jackson, spoke exclusively to the News Letter and he gives us his opinion on whether there should be a Northern Ireland Hockey Team.

“I have been posed this question many times as an Irish manager and to one who has been involved in hockey for many years. My own personal opinion is ‘No’.

“I doubt it would be sustainable as a long-term project in terms of funding and players being best placed on their choice in UK and further afield, playing against the worlds best. At the minute Ireland are punching above their world ranking and long may it continue.

“Hockey like Ireland Rugby is unique. Both have more than 125 years of history. Rugby in Ulster and Ireland has led on development and strategic direction. Hockey in Ireland must follow.

“Under current FIH statutes Northern Ireland would have to re-apply for new ranking and affiliation, Irish Hockey would be split and we would lose the special identity, which endears us throughout the world.

“That said there is an opportunity for the UHU and the IHA to make a significant change to fulfill aspirations for Northern Ireland. It would only happen once every four years.

“Ulster already set a precedent when they participated in the UK School Games. It will help Ulster, Ireland and world hockey all round in an enlarging sphere of sport.

“Northern Ireland players should be able to participate in the Commonwealth games. We have the players, dedicated and committed. It can be combined with a Senior Men’s Irish calendar.

“In the first British Empire Games in 1930, the forerunner of the Commonwealth Games, in Canada, a team representing all of Ireland competed.

“In the second British Empire Games in 1934, held at London, England, two teams representing Northern Ireland and the Irish Free State took part. The 1934 games are the only games at which a team from the Irish Free State took part.

“Can history not repeat itself?

“Politics should not be involved in sport. Regretfully, as in all countries it appears to be dominant above participation. I am reminded of an article by George Orwell published in 1945 – “The Spirit of Sport’. He is critical of national influences and its hindrance on sport participation. I too, wish we can all move beyond imaginary lines and borders in sport.

“I do hope there is a Commonwealth of Sporting games to alternate between the Olympics in years to come, in which Northern Ireland can be included. I ultimately hope that Ireland, North and South will be included, not only for hockey but for other and new sports to come.

“The FIH have a challenge. They must look outside their equivalent pale in Lucerne and give Northern Ireland players consideration beyond their view of what they think what is good for hockey. As they say in politics, “Top Down” policy leads to estrangement of the masses. In this case, players and Clubs in Ulster and Ireland.

“I am sure all Provinces would participate in Glasgow 2014 if asked but it will be one for politicians, North, South and in Lucerne. A real Commonwealth of Sport is not unachievable.”