Kenyan hockey teams set sights on Africa Cup of Nations glory

Kenya women’s national hockey team warms up before their Africa Cup of Nations Test match against Uganda at Sikh Union, Parklands in March 2021. [Jenipher Wachie, Standard

Despite the domestic league being in active last year, national women’s hockey team forward Gilly Okumu is confident Kenya will start the new season with a bang as the 2022 Africa Cup of Nations (ACN) kick off approaches.

Both men and women’s continental tournaments are set to run concurrently in Accra, Ghana on January 17-23.

Though the Kenya Hockey Union (KHU) let down players and clubs after failing to restart local leagues even after the government lifted ban on sporting activities that had been introduced to curb the spread of COVID-19, both men and women’s national teams are optimistic of leaving a mark in West Africa. 

Save for Federation of International Hockey (FIH) Test matches in March, a five-a-side hockey tournament in August and the recently concluded Jamhuri tournament in Mombasa, there was little action in the domestic scene.

While other sporting disciplines like football, rugby among others implemented the health protocols (polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing and COVID-19 vaccination of players), hockey leagues failed to take off.

However, Okumu believes there is still room to prepare and get the team to its best ahead of the finals to be played at the Theodosia Okoh Stadium.

“It is always a pleasure to play for the national team especially during this hard times. That makes it special,” said Okumu who scored five goals for Kenya during their FIH test matches against Uganda in March last year.

“I’m motivated to give my best in every match.”

Kenya have been drawn in Group B where they will battle with hosts Ghana, Nigeria and Zambia.

While the performance of the national teams at the previous African Nations Cup have continued to dwindle, many await to see how they will perform in Ghana.

In 2017, in South Africa, the men’s team finished fourth in the five-nation event that saw South Africa claim the overall title ahead of Egypt. Ghana won bronze medal while Nigeria finished last.

Just like their men’s counterparts, the women’s national team came in fourth spot.

“We have a strong team comprised of youth and experience. We have had a number of trainings and friendlies to test ourselves and I’m confident we will be much ready for the tournament in Accra,” said Okumu, who features for Strathmore Scorpions. 

According to the fixtures released last month by the African Hockey Federation, the ladies side coached by former Blazers Hockey Club striker Jacky Mwangi will start their campaign against Zambia on January 17.

They will then play Ghana the following day before wrapping up their preliminary round with a fixture against Nigeria on January 20.

The top two nations from each group will proceed to the semifinals.

The men’s team have been drawn in Group A alongside defending champions South Africa and Namibia.

Kenya, led by Fedhils Kimanzi, will begin their title hunt against Namibia on January 18 before they battle South Africa the following day.

Men’s Group B has 2017 runners up Egypt, Ghana, Nigeria and Uganda

The winners of the tournament will qualify for the 2023 FIH Hockey World Cup.

Meanwhile, Kenyan umpire Peter Obalo who officiated at the FIH men’s Junior World Cup in Bhubaneswar, India in November has been appointed to officiate the 2022 Africa Cup of Nations finals.

Obalo has previously officiated at the 9th Sultan of Johor U-21 International Invitational Competition in Malaysia and Youth Olympics U-18 competition in Argentina in 2019.

Other Kenya umpires Esther Adolwa, Jackline Okumu and Tina Agunda were also appointed to the Technical Panel for the African Road to delayed Tokyo 2020 women’s Competition in South Africa by FIH.

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