Structural changes have been made by Kenya Hockey Union according to the 2017 season preliminary league fixtures released on Thursday ahead of the start of matches slated for March 11.
KHU last season decided to use the pool system to divide the men’s Premier League in order to fast track the league and ensure its conclusion by late November 2016.
In this format, there were one off matches in the pools which drew sharp criticism from players and club officials.
As a result, KHU has reverted to the 'old' format of a single group in the men’s Premier League where teams will play on a home and away basis.
The men’s top tier league has Technical University of Kenya as the only new entrant after they won the National League in 2016 to gain promotion.
Western Jaguars regained their promotion status after winning a KHU sanctioned mini league following their relegation last season. They took the place of Wazalendo Youth wo qualified but opted to remain in the second tier men’s division league.
Three new teams will compete in the women’s Premier League. They include Multimedia University, University of Nairobi and Mombasa Sports Club who will be making a return to the league.
The men’s National League has 18 teams up from 11 last season and they are divided into two groups of nine teams.
The new teams are; Mvita Club, Gorilla, Mombasa Sports Club, Wazalendo Masters, Mombasa West, UoN and Youngstars. The changes in the league structure have elicited mixed reactions from different quarters within the hockey fraternity given that more matches also have financial implications on clubs.
According, to the fixtures, the highlight of the opening weekend will be defending record champions Telkom Orange taking to the field against Chase Amira.
Strathmore get campaign off
Defending men’s champions Strathmore University will get their campaign off the mark with a midweek clash against Sikh Union, Nairobi on March 15.
“This (league structure) will give a true reflection of the teams’ capability and performance. Last season it was just one game and that made the gap very tight at the top but we should see a difference this year,” Telkom Orange long serving coach Jos Openda intimated.
A source within women’s Premier League regulars Vikings said that as much as it will develop players with more games under their belt, the increased financial burden to honour matches is bound to take its toll on clubs especially those that are self sponsored.
“Running a hockey club especially without sponsorship is a truly expensive affair. People only see the players looking good and doing their best on the field but do not know what happens behind the scenes. There are a lot of costs involved in hockey and with two legs to be played this season, most of the clubs will suffer,” the source said.
Vikings midfielder Sophie Arum was cited by the source as a prime example of the ideal challenges that a club can face.
Arum was severely injured in October during a match against Telkom Orange and her treatment cost totaled up to Ksh. 300,000. The club had to dig deep to sort the medical bills and doubts still remain if they will be able to honour all their matches.
SNA established that only Telkom Orange and Strathmore University in the women’s league have a comprehensive insurance plan for its players. The other teams that have some form of coverage in the event of injury are the learning institutions.
Cost of kit
The cost of kitting a single hockey player on accessories alone is as follows. A good hockey stick goes for Ksh. 7,500 coupled with shin guards at Ksh. 2,000 and mouth piece at 1,000. Additional costs entail the protective gloves (Ksh.1,000).
Meanwhile, Kenyan international Victor Osiche has called for more organization this season from KHU ahead of the start of matches to ensure that all their programs are transparent and cater for the welfare of the players and their teams.
The former Friends School Kamusinga player was instrumental in helping Green Sharks have a formidable run last season in the league where they reached the playoffs semi final stage and finished an impressive fourth after going down to 2013 champions Kenya Police.
“We as players will benefit by playing more matches. However, we saw clashing in their program last year where the national team was to begin training but there were teams still training for their league matches. We would like to see more organization and communication from KHU to ensure that we are prepared early enough for both league and national duty,” Osiche said.