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No medals, but Black Sticks still high achievers

MATT RICHENS
Last updated 05:00 14/06/2014

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Just punching above their weight is not good enough for New Zealand's flagship national teams, Hockey New Zealand boss Malcolm Harris says.

The Black Sticks women's team plays for fifth and sixth tonight at the World Cup in the Netherlands while the men's side will play for seventh and eighth tomorrow night.

Millions of dollars have been spent building towards this tournament and hundreds of tests played, though the team will come home empty-handed.

Harris gave reasons - "not excuses" - why they have fallen short of the medal rounds, but insisted he was confident both sides would continue to improve and the appropriate plans were in place.

The women's side are ranked fifth in the world, with the men's team sixth.

"The standard here has been amazing," Harris said from The Hague.

"There's a very fine line between success and failure at these tournaments and that's been evident here. Both sides were one win away from making the semifinals, then we'd be having a very different conversation."

They didn't make the semfinals but they did reach their funding key performance indicators.

While the players will take little solace out of that, HNZ bean counters will.

It means they're likely to continue to receive the hefty High Performance Sport New Zealand (HPSNZ) payout they received this year.

The women's hockey programme, a tier-three targeted programme, received $1.3m for this year while the men - listed under the campaign category - received $1m.

That's unlikely to decrease heading towards the 2016 Rio Olympics, though HPSNZ chief executive Alex Baumann said a "proper review" would be undertaken later in the year and would take into account more than just on-the-turf results.

He reiterated funding for sport was more than just about high performance as it had a huge flow-on effect and Harris said success at a high performance level also got more youngsters off the couch and playing sport.

Despite hockey receiving more money for 2014 than the likes of rugby sevens ($2.1m) athletics ($2.05m), equestrian ($2.05m) and netball ($1.2m), more was required, Harris said.

But he's not heading cap in hand to the taxpayer-funded HPSNZ - he appreciates that well is only so deep. Harris is desperately trying to court the corporate sector as a way of beefing up the coffers to put the Black Sticks on a more level playing field.

Some of the top teams in the world have far deeper pockets and more access to top level competition, though that shouldn't stop New Zealand aiming for the top, Harris said.

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"There's two ways to look at that disparity. I think we box well above our weight on the world scene, I really do. But, to me, that's not good enough, that's not enough to be proud of. We want to be medal prospects at every tournament, we demand to be medal prospects.

"Our expectations of levels of achievement are much greater than our size and resources would see us getting."

Many countries have a fully centralised programme, but Harris said moving both squads to Auckland fulltime was not the answer. He wanted to improve and align the state of coaching for all gifted players throughout the country while also ensuring the national squads still came together for longer than they do now.

"Some of the World Cup teams have spent the last 12 months together building up to this, we had the last two or three weeks."

There is also a need to play in all the major tournaments and a number of other tests and warm-up games to keep in touch with the sport's leaders.

The two Black Sticks teams are closing in on 100 tests played in the last 12 months.

That all comes back to money and one of the easiest ways to fix that was more exposure through television. Harris said HNZ and Sky Television were still in discussions about having more Black Sticks games televised.

Sport New Zealand are understood to have put together a team to look what sort of opportunities there are for second-tier sports around new broadcast technologies and smaller players entering the market.

As for the corporate funding, "there are some nibbles, but it's a fiercely competitive market", Harris said.

- The Press

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