Marc Coudron, president of the Royal Belgian Hockey Association, has boldly predicted that the Red Lions will become European, world and Olympic champions by 2024, with the women’s side, the Red Panthers, completing a similar path four years later.
Coudron, at the helm since 2005, has overseen a rapid rise in success for the national team, while the set-up of the domestic league and the geography of the country has helped to maintain standards within the national team.
Now, he says, its time to reap the rewards with trophies.
In an extensive interview with Belgium’s Le Soir newspaper, Coudron said: “By 2024, we will be, at least once, champion of Europe, the world and Olympic with the Red Lions. In the ladies, it will be between 2024 and 2028.”
Coudron’s bold views have weight. Since Belgium finished runners-up at the 2013 EuroHockey Championships, the men’s team has shown considerable strength in the world game.
Fifth place at the 2014 World Cup was trumped in spectacular fashion when they won silver at the Rio 2016 Olympics before holding that form to reach the final of the 2017 EuroHockey in Amsterdam.
Since losing out to England in the 11/12th classification match at the 2014 World Cup, the women’s team has also shown global muscle, highlighted by reaching last summer’s EuroHockey final.
In the last 12 years, association membership has grown from 16,000 to 46,000 in the country.
He said: “There is impressive work that is done daily by the Leagues but especially by the clubs that perform 95 per cent of the work. They do a great job.
“We must therefore continue to offer the best possible tools to our 90 clubs in terms of training, coaching or management. We are sometimes a little directive but it is our role. We must make life easier and especially accompany each club in its daily life.”
Coudron also expressed his views on the upcoming FIH Pro League and believed the global tournament would have no impact on Belgium’s domestic league structure.
“In the International Hockey Federation, only five or six countries offer a real national championship. These are the Netherlands, Germany, Spain, Belgium, Argentina, possibly England.
“Other countries devote all their attention to national teams. The development of the Hockey Pro League … will have no consequences on the organisation of our domestic championship.”
A redesign of the domestic Championship will likely see 20 days of hockey with play-offs, according to Coudron.
He added: “The 12 clubs would be divided into two pools and would play back and forth in the group, before facing, then, once, the six clubs of the other group. Then we would go on with the quarter-finals, the semi-finals and final. But the discussions are still ongoing.”