Friday, June 14, 2024

Fiji at Hockey5s: ‘This will do so much for our sport back home’

Muscat — “We wanted to put our best foot forward and showcase to the world that we are here,” said Fiji’s Tiara Dutta, moments after the islanders were narrowly pipped to a Hockey5s World Cup berth in Oman. “The girls were quite emotional, we had it in the bag and we fumbled at the end.”

By hook or by crook, the Fijian men and women’s team have made it to a first FIH-affiliated World Cup, largely thanks to a public appeal in November which saw the Fijian government sit up and take notice, as well as a £10,000 sponsorship from a local deodorant brand.

“We have so many people backing us, it took a lot from ourselves and our family to get sponsors to get us out here to participate,” Dutta tells The Hockey Paper, “and also get on the scoreboard, to show people back at home that our sport is alive and well and we need to build it.”

The 25-year-old was referring to the Fijians first outing in this 5s showpiece, a 14-1 defeat to the Netherlands — Dutta scoring their history-making goal — before they beat fellow newcomers and hosts Oman 3-2. Leading Malaysia 3-1 in their final group game, they were then 10 minutes from the quarter-finals before holding out for a 4-4 draw.

Tiara Dutta celebrates Fiji’s first goal at a World Cup PIC: Worldsportpics

“It was an honour to play them [the Dutch] — how often can you say you played the No.1 in the world? Our goal was to get one in the game and we got that. You have to take the small wins when you can!”

Fiji’s goal was to come second in the pool and reach the last eight. Ranked outside the top 40 in 11-a-side, the Fijians were punching above their weight here. “A lot of us have been playing for so many years and to play against players of this calibre, it will do such amazing things for our sport back home,” she added.

Dutta lives in Brisbane and works in law and commerce for McCullough Robertson, her firm having allowed her to come and play in Muscat. 

The sport, meanwhile, remains closer to home for much of the Fijian hockey community. Dutta’s mother played in the national representative team, her brother, Leevan, and cousin are also in the Fiji men’s squad here.

Going down in HERSTORY!Tiara Dutta has gone down in the history books of Hockey for her goal against the Netherlands!

Posted by Fiji Hockey Federation on Wednesday, January 24, 2024

“There are sisters, brothers and wives in both teams and it’s a family sport through and through,” she said.

There is considerable history in Fiji hockey (the game on the island was first played over 100 years ago) while there is currently just one pitch in the capital Suva which has received a much-needed upgrade. The teams have been training on tennis courts for the last 15 months while the pitch turf was under construction.

“The focus of course is on rugby but we are trying to build hockey through this and taking whatever shot we can to be on the world stage and grow our sport back home,” added Dutta. 

“It’s expensive to play our sport so hopefully this will help our government continue to fund and keep kids engaged in a healthy lifestyle, that’s our goal.”

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