Sunday, June 16, 2024

Leah Wilkinson: We need more hockey on TV or the sport will dwindle

Leah Wilkinson has gone from history teacher to Olympic medallist. In a rapid rise in the last few years, the Welshwoman has seen firsthand what the sport is like at the top. Yet, she says, hockey isn’t “moving quickly enough”.

As captain of Wales the 35-year-old now has focus this year on the Commonwealth Games in another big year on her CV. The comes alongside her return to her day job as head of year 10 and history teacher at Ewell Castle School in Epsom and following an 18-month sabbatical ahead of the Olympics.

“It’s a fantastic sport but until there is more hockey on TV, then the interest in it and the money that can be generated will not be maximized,” she says.

“You look at how much of a difference it has made to women’s football now that they have TV deals and financial backing. It’s been huge for that sport.

Welsh hockey players Sarah Jones, left, and Leah Wilkinson

“It would be nice to get more coverage for hockey, because there is not enough in the mainstream media as far as I’m concerned, given the participation numbers in the sport.”

In an interview with Sport Wales, she added: “We have won three Olympic medals in three Games and so that helped with the profile, but it’s not been sustained coverage.

“Hockey is a brilliant team sport and we should be doing more to promote it.

“It’s not a sport that is played in schools as much as it used to be and we could have a whole different conversation about state school and private schools, but it would be nice for state schools to start playing more hockey again.”

Wilkinson and partner Sarah Jones have been together for nine years and returned from Tokyo last summer with a pair of bronze medals around their necks.

The most capped international in the history of Welsh sport (169 appearances and counting for Wales), Wilkinson knows she hasn’t got long left at international level.

“It’s important that I finish my career playing for Wales because that is how it all started. The focus this year has been on the Commonwealth Games.

Leah Wilkinson joined Surbiton from Holcombe PIC: GB Hockey

“There was a lot of support for Wales at the Games in Glasgow, but this should be even better. There is something about having home support that makes it more special.”

On her relationship with Jones, the Surbiton player said: “We are very demanding and competitive teammates and we always want the best for the team out on the pitch.

“When we first started our relationship, we definitely had a few arguments, but over the years we have learned to differentiate the relationship on the pitch from the one off it.

“If you don’t do that, then things become too intense. In the first couple of years, there were some silent car journeys home that were a little bit awkward.

“But, like anything, we have learned over time how to be in a relationship, but also be teammates in a high pressure environment. Over time we have got a lot better at that.”

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  1. Teams like Beeston are really leading the way with engagement in the form of their Youtube channel. It is a real diamond; the commentary, video and product quality are second to none in the hockey space. Maybe this is the way.

  2. Hockey played with a little hard ball and sticks has a few hurdles to cross to become a top TV and spectator sport. Walking the tightrope over safety and attractiveness, hockey has improved a great deal over the last 50 years but there’s still work to be done from the TV production angle. For starters, we could perch TV cameras higher up as low lying lenses can’t pick up the ball especially in and around the circle in a maze of sticks and feet. If taking the cameras higher up is impractical, make use of lenses behind the goal for real time action, especially at penalty corners to make the ball more visible and skills and action more viewable. Maybe then, viewers won’t switch channels and hockey may just appear on the sponsors’ radar.


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