By Rod Gilmour
England Hockey said on Monday that the findings from the independent review published by Hockey New Zealand into its women’s programme was “not at odds” with its own due diligence before they appointed Mark Hager as coach.
The backing of Hager comes despite the commission finding failings by Hockey NZ which revealed that, of the 33 players interviewed, 24 players reported ‘serious concerns’ about the culture within the squad since the Rio Olympics.
But England Hockey “anticipated” that the publication of the review, which took six months to complete, would now bring closure to the period.
Sally Munday, England Hockey’s chief executive, said: “We were satisfied with our processes before Mark’s appointment, and I am pleased that these findings have been published and now Mark can get on with the job in hand.
“He has made a very good impression with the squad and staff at the first two FIH Pro League matches in Australasia.”
At a press conference on Monday, Hockey NZ chairman Mike Bignell was unable to go into full detail over player specifics involving the squad’s supposed volatile environment.
He said: “It is a very broad term. And Maria [Dew, the review QC] has been very careful around the confidentiality of who spoke to her. The report doesn’t have significant or specific examples, as that is not what the purpose of the review was. We still don’t know who came forward, or what was said.”
Meanwhile, the review received short shrift from Sir Owen Glenn, the millionaire businessman and financial supporter of Black Sticks hockey, after it shed little light on the controversy which has engulfed the sport in recent months.
Glenn, a supporter of Hager, admitted to New Zealand media that he heard of no complaints towards Hager during his time in charge of the team.
He told Newstalk: “He is a good coach – I saw a lot of his coaching all over the world. No complaints, all the good players are supporting him. Who are the ones who aren’t? This is cowardice, absolute cowardice.”
Glenn suggested that “no one wants to take responsibility” for the episode, following the release of the near four-page findings, a majority of which has not been made public.
Bignell added that he had apologised to the Kiwi players on Monday and was “deeply sorry” over the saga.
Of the “serious concerns” regarding the team environment, England Hockey told The Hockey Paper: “We have a very clear people development strategy which invests heavily in all six of our full-time coaches. Mark will fit into this in the same fashion as any other coach.”
Dew found that Hockey New Zealand had failed to act on player concerns and recommended the governing body develop an “action plan” to make the transition easier for players to express their concerns. Responses should be quicker and more transparent, she said.
Hager is currently finalising his work permit after missing the weekend match against China. He will be moving full-time to the UK from March and will travel to the USA and Argentina next month with the team.
Hager said: “I’m glad that the review findings have finally been published and I’m excited about the opportunities with Great Britain and England. Although it’s been a tough period for my family and me, the whole process has made me a better coach. It’s important I learn from it all, whilst remaining true to my core values.
“England Hockey has confidence in me and now it’s my job to build on the programme culture, bring out the best in the Great Britain and England women’s programme and provide fans with much to cheer.”