Tributes have been paid to the passing of Thomas Mumba, long-time general secretary of the Zambian Hockey Association and driving force behind the game in the southern African nation, writes Steve Beel.

Mumba, who died in January, was also a much-loved sports teacher at the Lusaka International Community School. At a time when Zambia had been hit hard by a second wave of COVID and with a weakened healthcare system, his passing had a shocking effect on many in his hometown of Lusaka.

He first become involved in hockey 15 years ago when he was invited as a sports teacher to the Copperbelt region to attend a hockey introductory session.

So enthused was he with the game he made a commitment to do all he could to develop the game further. “I will not stop,” he said at the time. “I will make sure we succeed. I will ensure my school joins the Zambia Hockey Association and develop hockey through the country”.

He was true to his word and over those 15 years he was the driving force behind developing the game in Zambia. When he got involved, hockey was on its last legs in Zambia – but within the decade, through sheer force of his of own hard work, he had got the boys’ and girls’ under-21s to the Nanjing Youth Olympics in 2014.

Even more successfully, he then led the boys to fourth place in the Youth Olympics in Brazil in 2018. It included a landmark victory over Australia.

His hard work was bearing fruit despite the many challenges faced, not least an absolute dearth of resources. He leaves a fantastic legacy of young players and coaches in Zambia hungry to develop hockey further, support other youngsters into the game and deliver success on the international stage.

His last focus had been a Christmas hockey tournament in Lusaka, designed to raise funds for national teams to attend ranking tournaments in Africa this year.

Thomas is also a loss to the wider hockey family. Not least as his “type” would be recognised world-over. He worked tirelessly with younger players and coaches, put in many more hours than ever given credit for, was the first one to the pitch for Saturday morning games and evening training sessions, and was always at the pitchside umpiring, adjudicating, making up team numbers if necessary.

He was the ‘Mr Hockey’ who would be recognised throughout the world whether it be in Adelaide, Mumbai, Heidelberg, Surbiton or Port Elizabeth.

Zambia Hockey Association president Hazel Kennedy, said: “Thomas loved hockey and especially working with and developing younger players. Through thick and thin he stood firm in his objectives. Thankyou Thomas for being there. For being a great mentor, for caring and guiding the young ones, for dreaming with them and helping their dreams come true.”

The board of the Zambia Hockey Association are grateful for messages of condolences received, including from the Africa Hockey Federation. Thomas left behind him a wife and six children.

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