Namibia: Tough Qualification Path to Olympics

Namibia's national women's hockey team will face a tough challenge to qualify for next year's Olympic Games at the final qualifying event in Spain in June this year.

After winning the African Open Series in Zimbabwe in December last year, where they beat Zimbabwe and Zambia, Namibia booked a place in one of three final qualifying events for the Olympic Games.

Namibia's qualifier will take place in Valencia, Spain from 19 to 27 June, where they are the lowest ranked of the eight teams who will battle it out for two qualifying spots for the Olympics.

In field hockey, Namibia is only ranked 60th in the world, while they will have to compete against Spain (ranked seventh), South Africa (15), Italy (17), Belarus (20), Canada (21), Wales (26) and Thailand (28).

Only the top two countries will qualify for the Olympic Games, along with the top two countries at two other qualification tournaments in Dublin, Ireland (8-16 June) and Hiroshima, Japan (15-23 June).

The six qualifying countries will then join the six top ranked nations in the world at the Olympics, who are currently the Netherlands, England, Australia, Argentina, Germany and New Zealand.

Despite the tough qualifying path, Namibia's coach Erwin Handura remained optimistic of their chances.

"All the teams will have an equal chance of qualifying and I don't think the rankings will have much of an influence. For instance at the Indoor World Cup last year we were ranked 14th but we beat Ukraine who were ranked seventh, so the rankings mean nothing, it's more about how well prepared you are," he said.

Handura said their preparations were on track.

"Our preparations will start in earnest in February, but we have already given individual fitness programs to our players. We will also have training camps and we plan to have training matches against some top European clubs leading up to the Olympics qualifier," he said.

According to Handura the final squad is still wide open, while he called on players to attend the final trials.

"Anyone can still make the team. We will have new trials that will be open for all, so if there are any players in South Africa or abroad who want to make the team they will have a chance to come to the national trials.

"We have about 30 to 40 players in the national high performance squad, but we can bring new players in or drop other players depending on their performances and fitness test results. We will announce the final squad one month before the start of the competition," he added.

Namibia has excelled at indoor hockey over the past few years, after beating South Africa at the World Cup Qualifiers and then finishing ninth overall at the World Cup in Berlin last year.

At outdoor field hockey level, Namibia is still lagging behind though with a world ranking of 60, while they are only ranked sixth in Africa behind South Africa, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria and Egypt.

Handura is, however, determined to improve Namibia's world ranking and has set some lofty goals for the next few years of qualifying for the 2020 Olympic Games and the 2022 Commonwealth Games.

Meanwhile, the Namibian Indoor Hockey League will commence next month and Handura confirmed that his club Unam will once again be competing, after they withdrew from the field league last year.

"Unam has already started training and we will enter four men and three women's teams in the indoor league. The men's league will consist of a premier league, the reserve league and a first and second division league, while the women's league will consist of the Premier League and a first and second division league," he said.

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